Customer experience has been a hot topic for a while now. If you don’t have a CX strategy, I hope this post will convince you that it is about time you did.

In our previous blog posts, we’ve talked about the importance of customer experience and about the link between a company’s growth and its focus on customer experience during a recession.

I feel that in our current climate, customer experience is more important than ever. I’ve seen a few people quote Maya Angelou over the last few weeks and I believe that this sentiment applies to brands too:

‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’

I recently spoke with Richard Rumbelow, Head of Customer Experience at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to get his advice on how to successfully develop and deliver a customer experience strategy, why we should be buying our wine from Virgin and why the human element matters so much right now.

What is customer experience, and why is it important for brands?

In a nutshell, I would say that customer experience is how an organisation makes you feel. This is made up of many different aspects, from the products it offers,  it’s marketing, its physical presence, the service it provides, and how they operate. All of these things contribute to the perception that you form about an organisation. 

In the past, people would put a lot of emphasis on price and getting a bargain. I think customers are now placing more emphasis on how products and organisations make them feel. Organisations that can deliver an excellent experience and make a customer feel a certain way are the organisations that are going to grow. 

People are also becoming more conscious as consumers. Many care about the environment and want organisations that share their values regarding ethical trading and sustainability. The fair trademark was introduced in 1988, and we’ve come a long way since then. Many brands, like Unilever, have promised to operate sustainably and ethically and have launched a sustainable living plan, to prove that growth doesn’t have to come at the expense of people and the planet.

A Walker study found that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Do you think that customer experience will continue to be a key consideration for customers when life returns to normal?

I think so because customers’ expectations have increased in line with organisations being more innovative. I believe brands like Amazon and Uber have really pioneered ‘ease of use’ for customers because customers now expect to have a cab available at the drop of a hat. They expect to have something delivered on the same day that they purchase it. I don’t think it will be long until drones help brands to deliver products to customers. 

With social distancing limiting our daily interactions with people and our experiences with brands, I believe that exchanges with a human element will become more critical for people. One brand that I feel is doing this particularly well is the tea brand Bird and Blend. They include a handwritten note in each of its packages, freebies, recipe cards, and an invitation to their online tea community.  

If you look at the UK Customer Satisfaction Index prepared by the Institute of customer service, they show that customer satisfaction declines year on year. I think that there are two possible reasons for this decline. One is that each year customers expect more, and therefore companies are unable to keep up. The second is that customers have always had high expectations when it comes to services and products. Regardless of the price, and as a result, companies can’t consistently meet these expectations. 

What brands do you feel provide an excellent experience for their customers?

Personally, I think that Virgin Wines is a real leader in Customer Experience. I think that their service is brilliant. You can order a case of wine, and it typically arrives the next day. You can speak to a wine advisor about your particular choices and preferences. Even though they have standard pre-mixed cases for you to buy, you can easily swap individual bottles for your favourites.

They also offer a fantastic guarantee, if your wine is corked or you don’t even like it, they will replace it, or they’ll add a credit back to your account. So there’s really no there’s no risk for the customer, and there is no opportunity where you could ever lose out because the company is always shouldering that responsibility. And that, for me, really shows that they take my needs as a customer seriously. Because of that demonstration of loyalty towards me, I will always be a loyal customer of theirs. So Virgin, for me, is a company that is really getting customer experience right.

What are your ambitions for the BHF?

The British Heart Foundation is a large organisation, and people can interact with us in so many different ways. For example, people can shop at one of our stores, take part in one of our fundraising events, and speak to one of our cardiac nurses if they’re worried about their health. I want to ensure that the level of service that we offer to people is consistent across everything that we do. Regardless of whether someone is speaking to one of our volunteers in our stores or one of our community fundraisers, I want people to feel that they are building a relationship with ‘one BHF.’ I also want these interactions to be quick, accurate, and personable.

The goal is to be able to have a much better understanding of our customers, how they’ve interacted with us in the past and what their current needs are so that we can better support them in the future. For example, if ‘John Smith’ donates his sofa to us, it would be great to know if he has a personal connection to us. If we knew that John’s dad had a heart attack, we would be able to offer him information and support to help him care for his dad. We could also help John to look at how he could reduce his own risk of getting heart disease. To help the BHF realise this ambition we’ve developed the ‘Customer First Programme.’ The program consists of three elements. The first is to improve our understanding of customer needs and motivations. The second is to improve the service we provide when we interact with customers. The third will see us measure and track how we make customers feel so we can make improvements. 

Following the Customer First Programme launch at the end of 2018, we’ve developed personas to help us understand what our customers want. We’ve also implemented a new customer service system called ‘Freshdesk,’ which makes it possible to document all customer interactions in a single system and enables new channels like Live Chat.

We’ve also developed a Customer Promise, outlining our service commitment: we do the right thing, we make it easy, we care, we value you and we keep you updated.

What advice would you give to brands that are developing their own customer experience strategies?

I think there’s probably several different bits of advice that I’d like to give. One primary area to focus on is ensuring that you have senior stakeholder engagement. It is essential to have an executive sponsor, Carolan Davidge, our Director for Marketing & Engagement is the Executive Sponsor of our Customer First Programme. And so, customer experience has visibility at an executive level across our organisation, which I think is super important. 

I think having a programme of activity focused on customers and highlighting the needs of customers is a second area, which is really important. And then I’d say the third piece is to make sure that you don’t lose touch with who your customer is and making sure that they’re ever-present in your discussions. You can have a programme of activity and a high-level sponsor. Still, without the customer’s voice, you could end up working on projects that are not necessarily things that your customers want.

To mitigate the risk of this happening keep going back to your insight and research. If possible, nominate someone to be a customer champion who is responsible for championing your customers’ needs and helping to ensure that those needs are met. Rumour has it that Amazon keeps a seat empty at its most important meetings for the most important person in the room – the customer. 

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