It seems that improving customer experience (CX) is talked about a lot these days, but how are companies in the real world facing the challenge?

To find out, Econsultancy invited dozens of client-side marketers in the tropical metropolis of Singapore to discuss CX at roundtable discussions on April 7th. 

The roundtables covered three topics all related to CX and were moderated by subject matter experts from Econsultancy and our event sponsor IBM. 

Delegates brought experiences from many different companies and industries and they openly discussed their success stories and challenges with the group.

Below is a summary of the main talking points taken from the Customer Experience Management table.

Best Practices

Discussions started around some of the CX best practices that participants were following at their own companies.

1. CX is serendipity

To start things off, participants first wanted to define customer experience.

A technical definition came up which was that CX is the method of managing the interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.  

But one participant argued that CX is more than that. It involves creating ‘serendipity’, meaning that when you have great CX your customers have an unexpected and pleasant interaction with the company.  

And why aim for that? Because, according to one attendee, providing excellent customer experiences ‘builds brand equity and loyalty’ which leads to a greater likelihood of conversion.

2. Share responsibility for CX

Only a couple of participants had a dedicated CX team to manage the customer relationship.  

The rest said that ownership was spread more evenly throughout the organisation.

This notion is backed up by a 2015 Econsultancy research paper, Understanding the Customer Journey, in which global survey respondents indicated that many departments contribute to understanding the customer journey.

One participant from the Singapore roundtable helpfully added that having the branding team on board is especially important.

The reason is that brand managers understand very well what can happen if you take your ‘eye off the ball’ regarding matters which are important to your customers.

3. Managing online/offline is key

Some participants worked for retail firms which had recently added an online presence. What they reported was that providing good CX can introduce conflicts between online and offline channels.

They found that the CX which was good for driving web conversions was not always good for retail.

Others argued that customers are ultimately in control and companies must cater to how their customers prefer to interact and buy from them.

For retail, customers will probably be researching online and shopping in store. For travel, customers will research purchases on the company site and then buy from an online travel agent (OTA).  

All customer journeys must be catered for.

Google recently conducted research about customers using multiple touchpoints and discovered that the vast majority of shoppers now use their mobile phone when in a store to research purchases.

So it seems that effective CX requires a consistent experience between online and offline channels.

Challenges

Delivering excellent CX to both online and offline channels does not happen without overcoming issues. Participants noted two common ones.

1. Replicating CX across channels

Most successful businesses have at least one channel through which they provide great CX. But the challenge that many of them face is replicating that CX when providing a new customer touchpoint.

For example, a company may have a great call centre, but may struggle to provide an equivalent level of service via a website. 

The solution here, according to participants, is to move toward the ability to centrally manage touchpoints so that you can get them working together.  

That is easier said than done, noted one attendee, as most of their touchpoints were managed by different teams.

According to our 2015 CX survey, most organisations globally are experiencing this struggle as well. Fewer than one-third (29%) have integrated touchpoints and only 5% feel that they are integrated enough to exploit opportunities.

Also notable is that these figures did not change much between the 2011 and 2015 survey.

2. CX is expensive and hard to justify

The other challenge that almost all participants faced is that CX initiatives are expensive.

Additionally, it is difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI) for CX programmes and justify additional budget.

The problem, one attendee noted, was that excellent CX may not initially drive more revenue. Another added that the initial benefits, such as increased customer loyalty, are difficult to tie in with increased marketing spend.

These notions, too were noted in our CX survey.  

Whereas the vast majority (86%) of respondents said that ‘driving revenue and profitability’ was a major benefit of understanding the customer journey, fewer (55%) said CX helped ‘allocate marketing budgets more effectively.’

Trends

When asked about where they thought CX was headed, participants provided some insights into the current trends.

1. CX research is becoming more important

In order to improve your company’s CX, one participant noted, it is now necessary to do in-depth CX research. This will likely reveal that much of the low-hanging fruit had been harvested.

What this means in practice is that marketers need to move beyond fixing obvious pain points in the customer journey and start listening to what customers are saying about the brand elsewhere.

One attendee shared that they were using social listening and sentiment analysis to do just that.  

Another said that product reviews were another great source of this information.

2. CX shifting from art to science

The group also discussed whether improving CX was an art or a science.

One participant said that their CX programme started off as more of an artful, creative exercise, but now the company was using tools and data to identify, more scientifically, where the customer pain points lie.

IBM and Kana were mentioned as vendors for helping to manage CX delivery. NPS (Net Promoter Score), Customer Effort Score (CES), or Customer Satisfaction (CSat) were cited as commonly-used metrics to identify and track CX improvements over time.

All agreed, though, that despite data becoming more important, people were still key to improving CX.  

Survey respondents from our Understanding the Customer Journey report agree.

Data is seen as critical or important to almost all (98%) respondents for understanding the customer journey, but people and skills are not far behind, with 97% indicating the same.

3. Senior management are getting on board

Finally, participants noted that CX initiatives are no longer being led from the trenches. Senior management are starting to get involved, too.

One participant said that having the leadership team on board was very helpful for removing roadblocks, but also was helping re-direct the company.  

Though everyone at the company felt like they were ‘customer-centric’ before, when senior management team got behind CX the culture changed to ‘customer-obsessed’.

The one thing left for companies to do, though, is to back up this newly-discovered interest in the customer with proper funding.

Our survey revealed that only 29% of firms have budget dedicated to CX. The remaining companies are either using budget allocated elsewhere or have no budget for CX at all.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank all of the client-side marketers who participated on the day and our sponsor for the event, IBM.

We would like to extend a special thanks to the table moderator for the Customer Experience Management: Trends, Challenges & Best Practices table, Genevieve Brock, Senior Consultant of Digital Projects-Asia at MetLife.

We appreciate all of the helpful discussion points participants provided on the day and we hope to see you all at our upcoming Econsultancy events!