In this competitive world where brands are constantly fighting to cut through the clutter and create memorable experiences for consumers, being customer-centric means more than just putting consumers at the heart of everything that you do. Instead, companies need to start looking at how they can solve consumers’ pain points.
“We need to move away from talking about what we have to offer as a company to asking ourselves how we can help our customers by solving the pain or challenges that they are facing,” Viswanath Ramaswamy (pictured right), senior director, Oral and Wound Care Asia Pacific, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said during a panel at Marketing’s recent Customer Experience 2019 conference.
According to Ramaswamy, J&J’s company vision, also known as “credo”, places consumers, doctors, patients and nurses at the top of the pecking order. It believes that customers’ orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. This is followed by the company’s responsibility towards its employees, the community and the environment.
Additionally, customer-centricity is also embedded across all marketing functions and this is done by optimising insights. To create a positive customer experience and place customers at the centre of its mission, J&J leverages on data and automation to power its solutions, Ramaswamy said.
Also seeing the importance of customer data in creating customer-centricity is Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) senior manager customer journey, Caroline Gazeley (pictured left), who said it looks at the voice of its customers’ data to understand what the issues they are facing. For SIA, the responsibility of creating a good customer experience does not only lie in its cabin crew but every member within the organisation, including its engineers.
While there are some main core values such as safety, integrity and excellence that all employees adhere to, Gazeley said it still relies on customer data to pinpoint areas that might not be directly customer facing but still impacts the experience – such an example count be the in-flight entertainment system.
“We bring information to non customer facing staff such as the engineers, and we make it real for them as to the impact their service has on the customer..So it’s not just statistics, it’s subsumed with something that our customers are saying. When you create an conversation around the customer’s story, it becomes a lot more impactful and really motivates not only the front line staff, but also the back end team to act as well,” she explained.
SIA is also driving the customer experience conversation at a management level, having meetings with the customer experience divisions to find out what is driving the satisfaction at different levels of the customer journey, Gazeley explained. The management also looks at how the customer satisfaction is working out, the key issues they should look out for and whether SIA is trending up or down among customers.
“It’s very important that you get an aligned objective and we try to be very data-driven,” she added.
While some marketers might feel that they have a good grasp of the customer and they are being customer-centric just based on their extensive industry experience and gut feel, Gazeley is of the opinion that at the end of the day, data-led insights still win.
We need to walk in the customers’ shoes, see what the customer data is showing us and build up that rack of information to be able to present it to the relevant teams.
Customer-centricity is an outcome
According to Nikolaus Ong (pictured centre), COMO Group’s chief digital officer, customer-centricity is an outcome and the strategy to getting that done is the company’s leadership and the culture they drive. Ong explained that the type of values the leadership holds is important because that transcends the way an organisation operates, develops its products and services and ultimately, the way it services its customers.
Like SIA, there are values that COMO Group, a hospitality, fashion and lifestyle brand, adheres to in order to ensure all employees are on the same page towards building a common customer experience. According to Nikolaus Ong, COMO Group’s chief digital officer, front line staff needs to have a clear understanding of the consumers’ needs.
For example, a way to get consumers to trust the stylists in store is if they are able to immediately know the type of outfit or size that suits them. At the same time, the stylists should also be tactful when addressing sizing issues, which is a soft skill that can be trained but also an innate skill that some employees might have.
“There are values which we need to embrace. Unless the organisation embraces certain values and the management believes in them, those values will not be transcended to the customer. And if not, it’s just talk at the end of the day,” Ong explained.
Employees can help kick-start this change too, Ong said. Those with direct access to the management should make an effort to spend time with them, understand their pain points, speak on their terms and take them along the customer journey to make them understand the different type of values needed.
Meanwhile, J&J’s Ramaswamy said that in Southeast Asia, J&J created a business unit which spanned across consumer healthcare, pharmaceutical, vision care and medical. The rationale for this is because when companies are traditionally structured by their functions or business units, they tend to segment consumers as beauty care or baby care. However, if the silos are broken down, companies are able to service consumers at different stages of their lives. For example, when consumers are just born, they will have baby care needs, but as they grow older, they might have needs related to myopia or certain chronic diseases, which are areas that J&J will be able to address if it did not segment consumers into silos.
“The customer lifetime value is enhanced significantly by looking at it as an enterprise as opposed to just via a brand unit. I think that would make a huge difference,” he said.
Changing the mindset of front-line staff
Working with the call centre team can also be challenging. According to James Hansford (pictured second from left), head of eCommerce and Singapore call centre, Nespresso, it can be hard for call centre teams to discern between consumers who want to “cheat the system” and get something for free, and those who are passionate about the brand and provide feedback to help it improve.
“You have to work very carefully on the mindset of the people who are interacting with those customers because sometimes, particularly for our brand, these customers genuinely want to tell us how to be better,” he explained.
For example, Hansford said there was a consumer who provided feedback about how Nespresso’s coffee capsules had tiny dents in them. While it did not impact the coffee making experience, Hansford said the call centre team took the consumer seriously because the customer was taking the time to provide a feedback.
“It might seem like a very small issue but all of these tiny pieces of the customer journey add up to the overall experience. By taking his feedback seriously, we can improve the experience for the rest of our consumers who don’t pick up the phone,” he explained, added that it is also about educating the staff about the importance of every feedback Nespresso gets.
Hansford added that it would also benefit a company if it is able to close the loop on the customer feedback. “Even if you solve the issue much later and you go back to the same customer one year down the line, thank them for their feedback and explained that you managed to improve the experience as a result, that’s huge,” he explained.
Does gut feel still matter in this world of data?
Despite the obsession with being data-driven nowadays, there are still occasions when gut feel can be put to good use. However, management teams need to empower their teams, especially those on the front line, to fail because “gut feel will never be exercised if the team does not have a flexible range to work with”, Sonali Verma (pictured second from right), Manulife Asia’s head, customer experience and innovation, regional bancassurance said.
“You have to build processes that are funding that failure. That means that as managers, it is our responsibility to ensure that there is an amount allocated every year as part of the business plan to [experiment and] fail. Otherwise, it will just be lip service to the team,” she explained.
She added that consumer interactions in the insurance space is seldom one-off and as such, the front-line staff at Manulife has the advantage of building the relationship with the consumer over a period of time. As such, this allows Manulife to easily identify trends that might emerge from all these interactions.
“When you are partnering with the customer for the life cycle, you have various opportunities to see how the behaviour is and know the different customers who are experiencing that particular stage in life. So, there is enough data to go back and see what works best,” Verma explained.