Many thanks to Christoper Brooks of Lexden Group for providing the Customer Experience Magazine with this interview (www.lexdengroup.com)

As Virgin Media scoop two awards at this year’s customer experience awards, we catch up with Paul Elworthy, Head of Customer Experience Strategy to uncover their secret.

Q. Paul, you are head of customer experience strategy at Virgin Media, what does that involve?
A. The primary focus is on the advocacy measure and everything related to its improvement. Part of that is to focus on the specific customer experience initiatives that move the dial. Sometimes that’s spotting and correcting the broken stuff, but we’ve been on this journey for some time, so more often at Virgin Media it’s about ‘make a difference’ improvements.

Q. Clearly, you’ve made great progress as the two 1st places from the CX awards 2013 shows. But what is it about CX that you personally enjoy so much?
A. Functionally it’s being able to bring together an array of knowledge and skills amassed over the last 20 years having worked across most areas of marketing. Emotionally, throughout my career I’ve most enjoyed working with customers. Spotting when the customer hasn’t been considered and bringing them back into the equation is when I tend to get most satisfaction.

Q. Virgin Media demonstrate that in innovative sectors the customer experience can still be of paramount importance. What’s your advice to others struggling to keep customer on the agenda?
It’s always a challenge, but principally it boils down to three things, 1) ensuring the customer is given a seat, or a voice, in the boardroom, 2) setting out a clear financial benefit for all to see the incremental return investment in customer delivers and 3) ensuring everyone recognises their contribution towards and the impact their actions have on the customer.

Q. What challenges does the media sector face when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of consumers?
With any organisation of our size the complexity of cross-functional roles and varying priorities is challenging. It’s also a highly competitive market in the UK fuelled by innovation and sales promotions – so this can present a major challenge when it comes to how we reward loyal customers. At Virgin Media we’ve worked hard to deliver great value and customer experience and this is showing in our NPS scores and key growth metrics. In addition the technology is complex to build and deliver, and because the service we provide is actively used 24/7 and always on, our experience delivery needs to be constant too. Consumers have multiple touch points, again made possible by the technology, but in their minds just one seamless experience – we have to live up to this expectation.
Since launching NPS in the business we’ve accumulated 5 million surveys from customers. This huge amount of insight is shared across the business and used actively to learn and improve the experience our customers expect and desire from Virgin media.

Q. Many say with CX it’s better to have those practioners on your team with the bitter experience and war scars than fresh out of the box thinkers, what’s your most valuable lesson learnt?
It’s taken Virgin Media 6 years to get where we are. Accepting becoming naturally customer centric is a journey. It’s critical therefore that for CX professionals to push improvements through the business they need to understand how products and services are delivered, end to end, the agendas of different parts of the business, the impact one part of the organisation can have on another and obviously what that end experience is for customers.

Q. So the employee experience is a fundamental component of ensuring the customer experience is delivered?
Richard Branson said happy and engaged people are needed if we are to make customers happy. With happy customers we get business growth. It’s a simple ethos and a way of life with Virgin companies. His views are absolutely right. An example of this is when we simplified the whole sales order process. It significantly reduced the time and effort an sales agent needed to go through to process an order. This not only reduced order time – great for the customer and us – but also allowed agents to dial up the quality of engagement with the customer – which we know is key in driving NPS. Everyone was happier.

Q. We always talk about ‘bringing the customer into the conversation’, but when was the last time you engaged with an actual customer?
Last week in fact two customers got hold of my details on LinkedIn and emailed me, so I took responsibility for resolving their query. We also run co-creation sessions with customers to test product and marketing concepts – via online panels and face to face. For example, I was involved in a research session last week where customers reviewed a new service with me and some of the team. It’s always interesting to remind yourself just how advanced customers expectation is when it comes to technology and telecoms CX.

Q. With two awards at this year’s CX awards and a rising NPS score, you are clearly getting some things right, what’s been the most impactful customer experience initiative you’ve been involved in?
I think I’d localise the improvements we made to the JOIN journey. Work on the processes was already in place, but we identified a key driver of NPS was how well informed customers felt they were during the whole ‘on-boarding’ process. So we worked with our marketing and ops teams to re-engineer the communications flow using Journey mapping techniques. As part of this we also designed a ‘customer checklist’ that the install engineer reviews with the customer at the end of the cable install. This gives the customer a much better sense of what had taken place – adding value to the job and also providing a point of positive closure between the customer and the engineer. In fact with that simple mechanic we saw a 10% increase in promoters and a 6% decrease in zeros. Separately we’ve also developed ‘Voice of our Brand’, a range of ‘behavioural’ framework coaching kits to help our front line teams understand what great looks in a customer interaction. These have been designed to work across all our 50 million annual customer conversations within care, sales, retail and in-home. Through our NPS insight we know that where a customer notices Virgin Media’s positive behaviour we see a 35% uplift in NPS compared to if they simply hadn’t noticed. Voice of our Brand has been a very effective initiative. Our customers are noticing the difference and our people love it too.

Q. Having won best customer insight, how do you keep the customer top of mind at Virgin Media?
I’ve always felt we are at the top of our game on this one so it was great for our peers to agree. We have become expert at collecting structured data and blending it with unstructured data and internal KPIs to reach a superior understanding of CX cause and effect. With this big data the important thing is how it’s interpreted and applied.
As part of this, face time with customers, listening to their stories of how we positively or otherwise impact and fit in to their lives helps us keep what’s most important top of mind. We run a ‘Finding Your Focus’ programme which includes senior management spending a whole week on the front line too, taking calls and supporting installations to keep close to the customer and demonstrate their commitment to the cause.

Q. Which brands beyond Virgin Media do you look to for inspiration in CX?
Any CX professional needs to be a bit of a magpie looking across sectors and businesses. It’s difficult to pull out single brands – but clearly the classic stories relating to the likes of Zappos, Amazon and Apple come to mind. You typically find brilliance across many companies. So I like to look for brilliantly executed ideas and see how we can apply them to our challenges at Virgin Media.

Q. Do any brands wow you?
I think all brands have the potential to wow, it’s a cultural thing. Once you’ve ticked all the boxes customers and employees expect a great experience. At Virgin Media we give front line staff the freedom to create their own RAKs (random acts of kindness) which really brings our commitment to life.

Q. Customer experience is attracting more column inches than ever before. Why do you think it’s become so much more popular in recent years?
A few things have helped make CX a more central business practice. Measurement; we’re now much better at capturing VoC and applying it to business outcomes. A better set of tools and methodologies exist now to translate VoC in a way where great CX can be designed into products and services. Finally as it becomes harder to differentiate on product and price alone – all aspects of a brands interaction with its customers is under scrutiny – this plays well into CX as a discipline.

Q. What are the challenges for companies now waking up to the power of customer centricity?
The big one is if they’re just waking up to it they’re already behind the curve and behind companies that are already exploiting the voice of the customer. Customer centricity is a journey that takes years so not something you can say “OK this year we’re going to become customer Centric” – that simply doesn’t happen.

Q. With consumers using channels arbitrarily, do you think businesses are able to cope?
The ways customers interact with brands will always develop and change. The key thing is to focus on the areas that are either causing pain or can be used to drive advocacy – map those and design out the failure points and design in ways to delight.
It’s clearly an on-going challenge, particularly for companies like Virgin Media where we intentionally built multiple touch points for customers. This is both a matter of optimising experience within channel (the most important thing) and also ensuring that switch points are optimised – which is the big technology and cultural challenge.

Q. Finally, what do you think will be the biggest enabler of improved customer experience in the future?
For me, the biggest single driver of improved CX within a business will always be how central customer advocacy is seen as a factor for decision making in the business. Whether or not customer advocacy is seen as a key lever for growth will influence where investments are made.

Paul has over 15 year’s customer experience with brands such as Sky, Cable and Wireless and Vodafone and most recently as Head of Customer Experience Strategy at Virgin Media. His most recent success was as part of the team collecting two Customer Experience Awards.

Paul Elworthy

 

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