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CX: Old concept, new opportunities

Dean Hannant, Blue Prism

 The world of customer experience is constantly changing, but some things always stay the same.

Nowadays, a company isn’t so much defined by what it does, but how it does it. In the digital world, competitive advantage is no longer just about the kinds of products and services you offer, it’s about how easy it is for someone to do business with you. Digital makes it straightforward, so the theory goes, for anyone to clone what you do, and old verticals are rapidly disintegrating as companies broaden their portfolio and begin eyeing your markets for growth. What sets you apart is your customer experience (CX): do you constantly delight and surprise your customers, or are they frustrated with the hoops they have to jump through to get things done?
Chantal Troskie, Oracle South Africa Chantal Troskie, Oracle South Africa
 
As long as there has been business, smart owners have known that the ‘customer is king’. But how should South African firms approach CX today? The Margin convened a roundtable of experts to find out.

 
A tricky definition
 
A good place to start is to develop an understanding of what CX actually means: it’s a term that’s been bandied around for a long time and often conflated with specific parts of the overall process.
 
It’s not, for example, limited to the user interface of a website or product, but goes much deeper, says Christelle van de Merwe, customer operations director for South Africa at Mimecast.
Christelle van de Merwe, Mimecast Christelle van de Merwe, Mimecast
 
“We take a long journey with CX,” van de Merwe says. “The words don’t capture what we’re trying to do; it sounds like a skydiving trip or a race day to try to win their loyalty. But it’s about developing the metrics to understand what makes customers loyal, and what success looks like for the customers and evolving that relationship.”
 
Customer experience is broad. Kabelo Ngwane, customer success manager of CRS Technologies, an HR and payroll services provider, says that the more clients are involved in the development of new features, the more invested and loyal they become to the platform.
 
“But at the same time, what customers want is consistency,” Ngwane adds. “It’s like McDonalds – the promise is that a Big Mac is the same experience wherever you buy it.”
 
Kabelo Ngwane, CRS Technologies Kabelo Ngwane, CRS Technologies
“What I encourage my team to do is focus not just on the customer, but on all of the technologies and integrations that support the experience,” says Desmond Struwig, managing executive: intelligent operations at Decision Inc. “What we look for are the ‘moments of truth’, where they can have a positive, negative or neutral experience, and the sum of every one of those experiences is what builds the perception of the business. Building that focus into the delivery teams is critical.”
 
A good customer experience beats everything, says Edward Carabutt, executive director of Marval SA. “There’s a difference between CX and value. Customers may not be getting the full value that they thought they would out of a product, but if they are happy with the experience, they will be loyal. It’s hard to quantify emotions.”
 
That’s not to say providing value isn’t important, he continues. “Everything should be done to create value for stakeholders, but you have to think and work holistically.”

 
It’s a data issue
 
Edward Carabutt, Marval SA Edward Carabutt, Marval SA
Customer experience, then, touches on every aspect of an organisation’s work, and not just the customer-facing parts. But it’s not just about the systems and processes.
 
“Technology is an enabler,” says Paul McIntyre, CX executive at Elingo, “but if the DNA isn’t there to take that technology and make it work for the business, it’s a tool for a tool’s sake. “Experiences are driven by customer expectations. We’re working across multiple channels today not because we want to offer them, but because customers are saying that they expect us to.”
 
“We are a tech company,” says Chantal Troskie, senior CX sales manager at Oracle South Africa, “but the technology will never replace the human. The problem is that the current approach is very siloed and split into marketing, sales and service. We’ve all had that call centre frustration where you’re passed from one operator to another and have to repeat the same information over and again, for example. And even when we get the service right, people always neglect the sales force. When a sales person is talking to a customer, they don’t know anything about the service stuff, their job is just to sell.”
 
As with most things in business today, good CX is becoming a data issue. The ability to combine, measure and derive insights from the ‘360 view’ of a customer is imperative.
 
“The customer is no longer generic,” says Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO of AI specialist CLEVVA. “The customer is unique. We always talked about customer experience, but we never really did it.
Ryan Falkenberg, CLEVVA Ryan Falkenberg, CLEVVA
 
“We’ve been obsessed with giving people knowledge, but what we should be focussed on is outcomes. There’s nothing more frustrating than a chatbot that finishes by giving you a link to a document.”
 
Paul McIntyre, Elingo Paul McIntyre, Elingo

Customer service staff members are usually trained to give information, when they may not know more about a product than the customer themselves, he adds. This is where digital assistants can help, managing the knowledge flows on behalf of call centre agents, for example, and prompting them to ask the right questions. It allows the agents themselves to focus on becoming excellent at service, rather than product knowledge.
 
 
Managing complexity
 
If the gold standard is the 360-degree view of the customer with no more siloes, then the results can be overwhelming, and require automation to sieve for relevance.
 
“We worked with a global telecoms operator,” says Dean Hannant, telco industry director from Blue Prism. “They struggled to integrate data from different business areas and from acquisitions over the years. They have four billing systems and four CRM platforms. The average call handling time at the contact centre was nine minutes. Now they have a digital assistant that can get all the information about a customer from different systems in seconds. Call handling has dropped to two minutes and Net Promoter scores are up.”
 
Ian Jansen Van Rensburg, VMware South Africa Ian Jansen Van Rensburg, VMware South Africa
In order to facilitate these kinds of experiences across the board, however, customers also need to have more control over their data.
 
“If I go to a bank and take out a car loan, I have to give them all the relevant details around FICA and my finances,” says Ian Jansen van Rensburg, lead technologist at VMware South Africa. “But then, if I go back again the next year, I have to go through the same process. It’s frustrating, and unnecessary. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, you shouldn’t have to wait more than five minutes to know if you’ve been approved for a loan or not.”
 
Allowing institutions to share data would eliminate these frustrations, Jansen van Rensburg says, but the key word is trust.
 
“I don’t want my bank to know my insulin status and I don’t want my doctor to know my financial stability,” he continues. “I want to trust these processes in the same way that I trust an ATM to give me the R500 I requested without having to count it.”
 
Right now, though, many organisations are failing to win that trust because they aren’t getting CX right.
 
Desmond Struwig, Decision Inc Desmond Struwig, Decision Inc

“Organisations aren’t committed to the change management part of improving,” says Struwig. “Someone will buy a new CRM system and drop it on the sales guys without managing the change. You have to test with your users, and get buy-in from the start.”
 
“People are resistant to change,” agrees Mimecast’s van de Merwe. “There has to be a mindshift change to be committed to making things as easy as possible for the customer.”
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