Over the past ten years ‘customer experience’ has evolved to become standard practice across some of the world’s largest organisations. With Amazon, John Lewis and Co-op all finding a direct correlation between satisfied customers and profitability, we have seen more investment and the balance of power shift towards this area in recent times.
At Lexden, we work across all areas of customer experience strategy and we typically engage with all areas of the business too. We have seen new teams emerge whose sole remit is customer experience and they are typically developed from a hybrid of service, marketing communications. and continuous improvement. These teams are now striving to get the customers’ agenda into the boardroom and out into the wider business strategy.
However, we haven’t yet seen product naturally included as a part of this movement. In fact, to us, product’s voice sounds quieter and less dominant than it once was. We wondered if this was just our perception or whether those working in product felt the same way?
Is product being left behind? Or are we moving towards a more balanced, cohesive and unified business approach where our customers’ requirements come first and all internal stakeholders play whatever role is appropriate to achieve that end?
We invited top product marketers, Scott Henry, Product Director at Barclaycard, Chris MacKenzie, Customer & Product Strategy Manager at Denplan and Alan Osborne, Product Director at Genworth Financial to put their views across on the current and future role for product in a customer-orientated age of business. Here’s what they had to say…
Interviews conducted in June/ July 2013
Interviews conducted by Christopher Brooks, Director, Lexden
Q1. How has the customer experience discipline evolved in your business in the last 2 years?
ALAN, Genworth – Even though Genworth is a B2B2C player, significant change has occurred. A couple of years ago, marketing took a ‘customer first’ approach to propositions which brought product and service together. We asked what is important to our clients’ customers? This identified key themes which we rolled-out equally in product and service improvement across continents. Customer themes such as choice, transparency and fairness apply across the board from core benefit usage levels to an ad-hoc customer request such as changing an address.
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Within Barclaycard customer is now an implicit endeavour. It’s what we do, whereas in the past it was arguably more explicit. Because of that you don’t need to be in the customer experience function to be delivering it – we all do. The customer is the common currency we all now deal in.
CHRIS, Denplan – Our evidence shows that a great experience has been one of the main reasons that customers choose Denplan over our competitors and is often a key factor in them staying. So we’ve had an active programme of discussion, research and day-to-day contact with our members for some time. All of this already feeds into our business strategy for product development and service delivery. However, I would say that over the last 2 years we have become more attuned to the smaller changes in the competitive environment and also on individual customer segments. This means we can focus activity and resources in the best way for each segment.
Q2. Alongside brand, experience, price and comms, how important is product as a relationship-driver for your customers?
CHRIS, Denplan – Product is really important to our customers at Denplan. Dentistry is continually evolving so it’s important that our services reflect that. I’ve worked in different service sectors and have found that product actually IS the CX in service, so it’s often hard to separate them.
ALAN, Genworth – We have a philosophy at Genworth that everything that contributes to customer satisfaction is important and we are now starting to measure the degree of importance. It can be challenging to get data in a B2B2C environment across multiple markets. But introducing standardised measures such as NPS (Net Promoter Score) helps.
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Product is still related to everything. It is what you have to market. I don’t think you can separate it from customer experience. We will question, ‘Is this a commercial or an experience driver?’ and find it’s typically a combination of the two. At Barclaycard we look at customer impact rather than financials. This forward-thinking approach allows us to decide if there is a real sustainable product value in a product change for a customer?
Q3. Are you able to shape the customer experience to maximise the effectiveness and efficiencies of your products?
ALAN, Genworth – It’s a balanced decision. We have to consider three parties at Genworth; our clients, their customers and us. We need to ensure that everyone is getting the value they expect from the product. And it’s not as easy as applying improvement across the board. We operate across Europe where markets are at different stages of the ‘customer-centric’ scale. So we take our learning from one country to the next to achieve a fair deal for all.
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Yes. We now take all views into consideration in decision-making. It’s a very customer-focused approach. Everyone brings improvement ideas to the table and they must not have a negative impact on the customer experience.
CHRIS, Denplan – Changes to our products are still made on the basis of changing trends in our core markets. We have regular reviews with our members to ensure our plans are meeting the needs of their patients and we are continuing to provide the customer experience they expect. We also conduct regular research with patients and get feedback from our Customer Adviser teams to ensure the products continue to deliver the planned experience for patients. Any issues raised are included in future development plans.
Q4. Whilst customer satisfaction/NPS measures are in place to assess customers’ interactions with the company, are there similar measures in place to assess product-user experience?
SCOTT, Barclaycard – There are customer metrics which we all drive towards at Barclaycard as well as specific ones for each area of marketing; ops, product, risk etc. In product, we will be judged in terms of technological effectiveness and commercial viability and we are held to these standards, which mean the experience teams can focus on other things knowing the product is right in these critical areas.
CHRIS, Denplan – For us at Denplan, these tend to be the same thing. We have a regular monitoring programme with dentists to understand what they think of our differentiating product attributes. This will determine if we are easier to do business with, provide value for money for their patients and practice, and work with them as business partners – our key business drivers.
ALAN, Genworth – Like Denplan, we run customer feedback surveys at Genworth which cover key customer experience moments of truth, such as at a claims pay-out stage. We also run a regular NPS study looking at specific journey event touch points. This is actioned at product level and across each country. This allows us to periodically review product lines and client performance, and compare the market.
Q5. Who owns the budget and makes the final call when it comes to product improvements or enhancements?
CHRIS, Denplan – The Denplan product team in consultation with the key stakeholders who are likely to be impacted from across the business. Ultimately changes are driven by a customer need or a perceived need that we can satisfy well. All changes to the product are made on a commercial basis.
ALAN, Genworth – It’s collaborative. Both product and customer experience bring their findings and proposals to the table. The three parties mentioned earlier (clients, their customers and us) are recognised in the decision-making at Genworth.
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Usually this will be a group discussion based on feedback. Who leads will largely depend on the KPI impacted at Barclaycard.
Q6. Are expectations from customer experience managers considerate of traditional product operating models?
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Within banking it is a quantitative set up. ‘Quantified justification’ is needed to get the investment for the change. KPI shifts will drive the change. Barclaycard is no different.
ALAN, Genworth – At Genworth, yes they certainly are because they sit within the operations and IT area. So these specialists are acutely aware of the impact of experience on product profit drivers. Anyone in this type of role needs to have an acute commercial awareness.
Q7. Customer experience has been expressed as; ‘fulfilling a customer objective in an easier way than anticipated and ideally as an enjoyable experience’. Is this thinking applied in product design?
CHRIS, Denplan – Yes. When designing a product you need to keep in mind how the end user will ultimately consume your product or service. To generate real loyalty, it has to be an experience the customer is willing to repeat and to recommend. Word of mouth is the most common source of new patients in dentistry and often our customers act as advocates when a potential patient is considering taking Denplan. We are seeing more of this in discussions on social networks (e.g. mumsnet) where current patients relate their experiences to potential users. We will include this when thinking about product development and communications campaigns.
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Every product development is different. At Barclaycard, we think in three levels of progressive improvements which connect with the experience model; functional, better and awesome.
ALAN, Genworth – Often with product design, regulation can get in the way of building an easy experience. But my view is if you use the customers’ best interests as a value judgement, the outcome will be fair and open. This is what compliance wants as well. An example of this is that it used to take several calls before sufficient checks and information was gathered to pay out a claimant. We’ve got this down to 2. At Genworth, we are already working at making it easier in most areas of product and service.
We’d like to make the product usage experience more engaging. I’m not sure you can get to ‘enjoyable’ with payment insurance but, if it can be done, we’d want to be the first to take it to that level!
Q8. In your opinion how should product feature in the customer experience set-up?
ALAN, Genworth – If you define the customer proposition clearly at the outset, the product will always be a key part of it. That’s how we achieve a customer focus here at Genworth.
CHRIS, Denplan – To ensure product is always a part of the discussion, we ask the following questions of any proposed improvement; ‘What problem are you trying to solve for the customer?’, ‘What is the customer journey impact’ and ‘Is the product being used as expected or are there new/alternative uses to consider?’
SCOTT, Barclaycard – Product is and should continue to be what you are selling. The voices from customer experience must be included. But product still owns the thing customers buy and use. Customer discussions will create areas of grey. Personalities within the organisation need to build teams engendered by the right collaborative culture. What you need is multi-discipline skills to have a multi-dimensional point of view because greyness creates contention over ownership and the type of solution deployed. All of which will impact the customer and the business if it’s not the right choice.
Q9. Finally, do you have any other observations on this topic you would like to share?
ALAN, Genworth – Just picking up on Scott’s earlier point really – with silo-marketing-cultured organisations, product often isn’t in the mix at customer experience or service improvement discussions. If the lead at the table is from customer services then the solutions come from this way of thinking. To achieve what’s best for the customer all involved need to have a common and consistent level of understanding of customer. Then it comes together.
My second point is one of timing. Changes of this nature often need time to be allowed to test, run live and synthesise results from multiple sources (and even retest if necessary). Too often pressure to deliver a ‘quick win’ can compromise potential improvement. This is why a holistic approach where every internal stakeholder has a voice is key and a strong leadership team is key. Genworth work on a 2 year journey programme cycle. Even if it is vitally important to customers we resist a knee jerk product change until we are sure it’s right answer for our three stakeholders; our clients, their customers and ourselves.
What role is product now playing in the customer experience-led world of marketing?
In service industries, the line between product and customer experience is often intrinsically linked; some companies now believe that they are truly symbiotic. However, the concept of ‘product’ itself is still a cornerstone for most brands and its usefulness, effectiveness, and commercial viability must be absolutely right before the augmented features of the brand (marketing comms, customer experience, etc) can do their job properly too. So working together is invaluable if all are to win.
Chris, Scott and Alan have made it clear that product is very much ‘at the table’ in their businesses and they stress that having the customer at the heart of things helps to unify their thinking and drive towards a common goal. The panel’s view is that all aspects of a brand should come together and use their various skills to achieve a multi-disciplinary customer-focused point of view. However, if customer experience is allowed to lead, then all solutions and initiatives will automatically align under this way of thinking.
The panel points out that any proposed changes driven by customer need must also be tested beforehand to ensure they make commercial sense and contribute to overall competitive advantage. Customer service is described as the ‘common currency’ that links the functions and their collective decisions together. Anything less than a ‘multi-dimensional’ view can result in an overall detrimental impact to the business and the customer.
Product is clearly an intrinsic part of the customer experience. So our view is that more product specialists should be employed in customer experience roles to ensure a ‘multi-dimensional’ team dynamic. Otherwise, if customer service and marketing comms practitioners take all the decisions, then there is a danger that they may inadvertently miss out on product and focus solely on customer interactions (eg website, inbound calls, mailings etc). The key issues that arise will therefore be limited to just these areas too.
This, in our opinion, reflects one of the biggest challenges organisations face in seeking to embed customer experience. Whilst organisations want improved customer experience statistics (either because of the ease of external comparison or because of the commercial return of getting it right), where they should start and how they approach a CX programme will depend on:
- Their common understanding of what ‘customer’ means
- Their cultural set up (silo or collaborative)
- The drivers of change in their market
- Established customer expectations and conventions.
In all discussions and decisions, product should be an intrinsic part. As Chris, Alan and Scott demonstrate, product can be a huge ally if managed appropriately and given a key seat at the ‘customer’ table.
Lexden is a Customer Strategy Agency. We put customers at the start and the heart of the business strategy. We work with brands to attract and retain happy customers. We achieve this by helping them to understand what makes their customers tick, building memorable customer experience strategies and creating engaging customer value propositions. If you like what you’ve read sign-up to our ‘Putting Customers First’ Lexden newsletter. If you’d like to meet to discuss a customer strategy challenge, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0044 7968 316548 or visit
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It is this approach that has proved attractive to some of the biggest brands in the service industry. I have been involved in helping companies shape their strategic direction and working agency side, support them in achieving it. I’ve spent many enjoyable years working as an agency planner for brands such as Nationwide, JPMorgan, Amex, Simply Health and Santander developing customer segmentation, brand positioning, acquisition and retention plans and marketing campaigns.
With a passion for the strategic aspects of client’s marketing such as new market entry, brand creation, proposition development and customer engagement. I’ve continued as a consultant providing strategic support to brands such as Barclays, RBS, Standard Life, Aviva and Visa across Europe. Many cite the objectivity of the work and the ability to work and inspire incumbent agency partners as a rarity in this field.
I created strategic consultancy services within agencies such as cchmping and The Gate before naturally evolving to set up Lexden, a customer strategy agency. A vision shared with co-founder Ajai Ranawat. Since opening our doors we’ve worked with some great brands in the service sector such as Direct Line, Tesco Bank, SSE, and Barclaycard across a number of key customer strategy assignments and helping to put out ‘burning platforms’. Importantly, I still believe and practice a ‘customer first’ approach on all assignments. And as we grow, those who join Lexden are picked because they share my beliefs too.
I am now a regular awards judge and speaker at ‘customer themed’ events.