Ascenti is the leading UK provider of physiotherapy and selected clinical outsourcing. More than 20 years of experience has created incredible core values and made Ascenti a progressive company. They’ve won two GOLD awards at this year’s UK Digital Experience Awards, (Best App and Digital Change and Transformation) and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with their CEO Stephanie Dobrikova.

The team behind these digital initiatives has been working incredibly hard, especially at these times, to provide the best possible service and above all, an excellent customer experience. Today, digital experience and customer experience have to go hand in hand to match the quality of the services provided. Looking from a pre-pandemic perspective, everyone felt digital is becoming crucial for customers’ experience. No one knew it would come this fast.

The pandemic left us with no choice but to adapt and overcome, as human beings and as businesses. That is exactly what Ascenti did. Only difference being, they adapted in their own way with no fear of change and feedback. It did bring results since they took home two Gold awards for their work.

Stephanie Dobrikova, CEO of Ascenti

1. Why is it important for a company to be customer centric? Is it equally important across the world or just in certain regions or industries?

Stephanie: It’s hard to think of an industry where being customer centric isn’t important. It is important for every business. The happiness of your customer is always a priority, and being able to satisfy their needs and exceed their expectations is absolutely linked to your own success. For us, as a healthcare company, achieving great outcomes for our patients is incredibly important but also giving them a great experience, enabling them to step back into work or achieve their goals recovering from their injury and getting back to their hobbies. Whatever it is, that is the absolute core of our purpose as a business because their success is our success!

2. You won two gold awards at the UK Digital Experience Awards 2020 and at this moment digital experience and customer experience are more connected than ever. In your opinion, what are the attributes that the company needs to create for a loyal customer and still drive revenue?

Stephanie: Loyalty is built on having a high-quality service. Especially in these times, being innovative, market leading, putting customer experience at the heart of everything you do is essential. Making it a seamless journey no matter if it’s a digital experience or a mixture of digital and in-person care, as it is for us. Having all that brilliantly well linked up is critical to creating an excellent experience for the customers. If you want to create loyalty you have to put it at the centre of how you design things.

Being able to join up a digital journey with a non-digital aspect of your service in a seamless way is important as well. When all those pieces come together in a great experience, that’s how you build loyalty. When we did our digital journey, we thought a lot about what it would mean for our frontline staff, our physiotherapists. We focused on enhancing the tools available to them so their lives would be easier and they can focus more on delivering a great experience. That can be anything from digital exercise prescription (making it easy for them to prescribe an exercise with a demonstration video pushed out to the patient’s app), creating an online shop to order new uniforms and anything else they need for clinic super easily, and a fantastic e-learning platform. Altogether this helps them deliver great outcomes for their patients and an excellent customer experience.

3. Based on your entry that you submitted for the Digital Experience Awards, what was the most important in achieving the benefits you delivered?

Stephanie:  I think big factors for our success is having the best team. I love my team, I think they’re amazing. We have so many fantastic people in our business and when they were building this service they were really focused on getting the best outcome for our patients, our clients and, as an extension of that, our business. That focus and drive was a really big factor for everything to come together. The second thing that made a big difference was, when we originally looked at it, we looked for what else was going on in our space. Digital healthcare is a huge topic at the moment, and when looking at what else was out there we thought about ‘What can we do to catch up?’.

That’s how we started but then we stopped and rethought, actually, what do we need to do to be market leading? It was a really big change in mindset and if we hadn’t done that we definitely wouldn’t have got to where we are today. We would’ve been just somebody else in the mix rather than somebody really special.

4. What were the key drivers to enter the Awards in the first place?

Stephanie: We wanted to increase the recognition for what we’ve achieved as a business I’d say, that was a big driver. But also, we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved as a team and we wanted to celebrate that. The Awards were a big thank you to them as well. We really wanted to show them what they’ve done is so great you can actually go up against other companies and get gold. It was a celebration of them, as well.

5. Did it contribute to the motivation of the team or inspire any changes?

Stephanie: Of course, they were really thrilled, everyone is thrilled to have this recognition. Having that and knowing that it comes from a panel of Judges who are actually experts, is an underline for the team that what they’ve done and achieved is fantastic. It’s a really nice motivator.

6. What is your message to the CX professionals regarding the awards and the benefits of it?

Stephanie: It was a really interesting day for me, actually. It was the first time I’ve been to awards held online. I was very curious if it was going to work or not. It was great! It was really fun and I particularly liked the fact the panel of judges had really good questions, they were positively challenging. They also shared ideas, had thoughts around the directions and that was really fun to push the thinking a little bit more. And it was a great day from that perspective as well. I would definitely encourage people to go for it and have the same experience if they can.

7. What would you tell a company that is trying to design great customer experience? What are the key considerations for achieving an excellent customer experience?

Stephanie:   From a strategy perspective I’d say we had a strong clarity about what we wanted to achieve and why that digital piece is important for our overall business strategy. That is maybe something quite critical to get because often people talk about having a digital strategy as a separate thing and I think if you want it to be really successful it has to be an enabler of your overall strategy and goals. Having the two clearly aligned with what we wanted to achieve is key. In terms of process, knowledge etc., we had a plan, we engaged with stakeholders all around the business but we also brought external expertise and perspectives when we were unsure or we wanted to make sure that what we were doing was as exciting as it could be. We also weren’t afraid to change things along the way if we thought that it could be done even better. We had a plan – and it would be great to just execute a plan but it doesn’t always work like that – so not being afraid to change and make sure we were going to deliver something that really achieved the best for everyone was key as well.

8. Since the Awards, what was the focus of your company’s customer experience and digital experience efforts?

Stephanie: From a customer experience perspective dealing with COVID-19 and being able to deliver great care for them continues to be the big thing. Being able to blend in-person care with digital care for the people that are shielding or are in lockdown situations. Giving people confidence to return to face to face care if they need it. That has been a really big focus. It is also been great that this time has driven an acceptance of digital care. I think that is a huge shift and I think it will be permanent, and one that is definitely for the good. We’re busy, but those are the key things at the moment.

9. Given that everything is evolving and changing so quickly, the younger generations have become more demanding in terms of customer experience. What is the main change that can be felt in CX today that wasn’t in there ten years ago?

Stephanie:   Ten years ago we as a business did very little online. We would have had a website, it would’ve been really basic, just some general information about us and a phone line probably. That has completely transformed and the expectations are higher. Now it has to be absolutely seamless along the way; customers expect it to be joined up. You wouldn’t be hunting around for an app or an invite etc. It’s got to be super easy since we don’t want people dropping out or being puzzled along the way. Having everything integrated and making the effort for that journey to be as joined up as it possibly can be is crucial, and what people expect today.

10. We often speak about empathy through all of the experience that the customers go whether it’s digital or not. What do you think is the role of empathy in creating an excellent customer experience? Can a business be empathetic and still drive revenue?

Stephanie: Definitely. Empathy is about listening and understanding a customer perspective. For us, we ask for feedback a lot and that can be a broad range of things, so we look at the clinical outcomes from the patients (are their pain scores improving, are they getting better, are we having a right impact for them?) through to surveys around satisfaction and recommendation. Our complaints are incredibly low but if something happens we try to learn from it and make sure we make improvements and that it is not just something that happens and is ignored, there is an outcome from that, as well.
When we look at the digital piece, a good example of trying to be empathetic and bring their views in was that we used external specialists to conduct research for us on our existing products. We asked them to follow patients and our physiotherapists and figure out what worked and what didn’t, and that really informed the design and it was a big leap forward from what we had. We kept in mind some of these learnings and made sure they were built in to the overall solution.

11. What do you think is the difference between today’s and older generations’ leaders, not age wise but in general?

Stephanie: I don’t think that age is a factor as much as a different style. Different styles of leadership are being accepted, as well as different faces being accepted into leadership roles now. I always try to be an enabler for great people in our business and make sure they can achieve their goals and they can grow and succeed because if they’re doing that, than we as a whole are doing that. I don’t pretend to know the answer to everything, but I try to make sure they have what they need to be able to succeed. Maybe it’s a change of style and accepting that not all leaders have to be bossy, shouty and scary!

12.  Individuals and businesses have done a remarkable job since the pandemic started. We all truly rose up to the challenge. Unity and strength have become a top priority. How would you summarize CX in this year?

Stephanie: Firstly, hugely well done to your team for finding a solution for a very difficult problem. Most awards are a day with the dinner, networking etc., so to make that work online is a real achievement.
It could actually be a great innovation in this space. You should be really proud you made that happen under such tricky circumstances. Covid has accelerated what’s been achieved in this year and in the digital sector. It is enormously important.  It is the future, we’re all clear about that. In healthcare we proved it is possible to achieve even better outcomes with certain patients through digital experience which was thought to be impossible before. COVID has been awful but it has accelerated discussions about digital in this space and the acceptance of it. I think that is one of the silver linings to this very dark cloud and goes to prove what people can achieve by being open to changes and learning along the way.

Throughout the year there have been movements regarding human rights altogether.  In the middle of a pandemic that puts human lives in danger, people stood up all over the world to make a change.  Change in how people are treated. It brought a new level of expectations from companies regarding customer experience, different styles and leadership mentalities being accepted. The ever growing global CX movement is now intertwined with all changes happening and its role depends on it. Listen to your customers, listen to your employees as they will lead the way for your success.

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