I was reading an article in Marketing Week (24th July) titled ‘New Model Agency’. It resonated because it’s a phrase that’s been applied to us here as a customer strategy agency at Lexden. But the main reason it caught my attention was the section looking at what do marketing managers consider the biggest marketing challenge today?
- Customer Acquisition
- Consistent Customer Experience
Picking up on the point on ‘consistent customer experience’ , I thought I’d share our views following some recent experiences. It starts way before looking at the touchpoints. It starts with having three imperatives agreed to govern the customer experience:
- The customer strategy must be aligned to the business strategy
- The customer betterment criteria must be established (aka customer vision) and link back to measurable KPI’s
- All existing agency partners responsible for affecting improvements must be included in a strategic capacity
The focus of this blog will be on point 3 and in particular the marketing agencies.
To my point, last week I met with a digital agency who spend much of their time understanding the user experience when customers are enquiring or purchasing on the sites they build for their clients. Having a sound knowledge of user experience often gives them permission to work across customer experience. They take what worked well (defined as engagement levels and transactions) on the website and seek to replicate this across other touch points in the business. This means that even through the website is just the information management and payment processing touch point for the customer, it’s driving the customer experience expectation across every other area of the business, including the actual product usage!
Again, a few months ago I worked with a brand who had brought in their comms agency to drive their customer experience improvements. When I looked over their (very stylish) customer journey mapping the primary swim lane was relating to the comms that went out to the customer and investment was made to get the MI against each of these. The first project to come out of the audit was focussed on improving the efficiency and content of existing comms to customers. This was done without understanding what mattered most to customers, what the root causes of irritants were to the customers, what should be communicated when and how etc. Needless to say it had to be reworked with the comms agency’s role swapped to delivery of improvements rather than driver of them.
Several years ago I worked for an integrated agency as head of planning. I’d been working with a city trading company looking to grow their business through enhanced customer experience. What became clear to me during the appointment was that with improved client management skills and a more effective database they could achieve growth quickly and efficiently by leveraging existing assets better. The problem for my MD was that our agency produced shiny ads and websites. We didn’t provide client management training or databases. He had 70 creative mouths to feed. I had my integrity so advised the client to pursue what was right for him and parted company with the agency.
In all cases, the projects focussed on what capabilities the agencies could deliver against before what was best for the customers and therefore best for the business.
So who should represent the customer?
The customer should be at the heart of the decision-making. Understanding what role the brand and its propositions are playing in the customer’s lives and the importance of the experience in attaining and using these informs the customer experience strategy. Delivering this in the most effective and efficient way to ensure retained and profitable happy customers is the desired outcome to achieve.
With this in mind the business should look to ensure the customer attributes (how their customers articulate what matters most) and the business activities (how the business delivers these) are aligned.
A solutions agnostic representative will evaluate where most gain is attainable for the customer and the business. This might prove to be changes to recruitment policy, a review of brand standards, customer services training, IT enhancements, product enhancements, KPI dashboard rework or even marketing discipline improvements.
But unless well-directed and managed the advertising, PR, media, digital, CRM, comms, branding, sponsorship and social media agencies will all have a slightly different interpretation on what that means which will impact what they deliver. This is where the inconsistency creeps in and starts to rot the experience.
Ideally you want a solution agnostic customer champion with commercial acumen and advanced stakeholder management skills to lead the customer experience strategy. These individuals can often be found lurking within the organisation having gained experience sitting in many of the client facing departments in their career.
Alternatively, an external customer experience mentor is a useful addition to the team. They will cling on to the customer vision objectively and ensure every action is accounted for and contributing towards a customer betterment outcome. It involves working with client’s existing agencies to ensure they are well equipped to deliver their ‘slice’ of the customer experience pie as and when it’s needed. With an independent customer strategist there is no marketing discipline bias either. In fact, this role will help to ensure clients get the most effectiveness and efficiency from their agencies. And the agency is able to add the most value where relevant to their client. So it’s a win-win-win (not forgetting the customer).
Investing in the customer means investing in the agency too
Having explained why it’s dangerous for an agency to lead such a programme, it is critical they are at the top table and always involved. Remembering they will naturally be focussed on their discipline. So investment is needed with each agency to help them really understand customer fulfilment in the sense of customer experience. This includes:
- What matters most to the brand’s customers (in their life, in their brand relationship and in their usage and transactions)
- How customer experience plays a key role (often No.1) in influencing and shaping the relationship with a brand, which then determines future customer expectations
- The agency contribution to customer experience (needs to be well-defined to avoid scope creep) and how the outputs align to the customer strategy in order to achieve a consistent customer experience.
Each agency plays a critical role. But agencies are playing catch up when it comes to customer experience. They need support and assistance otherwise the interpretation of customer experience will be largely driven by their discipline view.
Establishing a ‘Customer Closeness’ programme for agencies will ensure they are as in tune with customers and their needs, wants and expectations as they are with their own discipline. They can then work to fuse the two better than anyone else within the organisation could.
And finally, when it goes wrong
This mailing from Verizon highlights what happens when agencies aren’t aligned. The mailing thanks the customer for moving towards paperless billing. But the notification went out to the same customer 56 times. With a ‘customer experience strategist’ at the heart of any changes this sort of cock-up is avoided. The team would have known which customer attributes were critical to deliver against. It is likely that ‘save me time and effort’ and ‘put my interests first’ would have come through in order to prove that paperless billing was a better outcome for customers. It is also likely the comms agency, the CRM agency and the website agency were involved. Each ones efforts has been compromised. But with someone representing the customer and what a better outcome looks like, diligence would have been applied to key aspects of the communication which could affect this, such as the mailing file and production.
Lexden provides customer experience mentoring, CX programme reviews and full programme design and management.
Posted by Christopher Brooks, Customer Experience Strategy & Director at Lexden
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