Customer engagement transformation


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This post was originally published on the Engage Customer website here.

On Thursday 6th July I had the pleasure of chairing proceedings in Hall 2 of the Customer Engagement Transformation Conference that took place at the Victoria Park Plaza hotel in London.

The theme of the day was to ‘help delegates in their quest to transform the way they interact with customers in order to reap the rewards of successful engagement’.

All good and very interesting stuff and I was looking forward to the day as Steve, Katie and the rest of the team at Engage Business Media had assembled two halls packed with great speakers.

Prior to the conference, Steve and Katie from the organisers, Engage Business Media, had asked me to write up some notes and thoughts on the overall day that could posted in the form of a blog post on their website.

Given I saw so many talks over the course of the day in Hall 2, what I decided to do is run through the presentations in the order that they presented on the day, who spoke, on what and what stood out for me from each of their presentations.

Sound good?

Ok, let’s get started.

First up on the stage was Pauline Wilson, Operations Director of Virgin Holidays. Pauline got the day off to a great start sharing the story of how Virgin Holidays had used customer journey mapping to build their customer insight and brand. Here’s some things that stood out for me from her talk:

  • Virgin has no shortage of great people with good ideas but mapping their customers journey was a great step in helping build their understanding of their customer.
  • Rather than start by undertaking an in-house mapping exercise, the first thing Pauline and her Marketing Director did was go under cover and actual go on one of their own holidays. Sharing this with the audience, she followed it up with must have been the best quote of the day “It’s a hard job but someone has to do it”.
  • Going undercover allowed her and her colleague to better see things from the customers perspective. Invaluable insight and I and am sure many of the attendees how many other senior execs do this type of thing.
  • Great quote from Sir Richard Branson too:

“An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right. And the people out on the front line, they know when things are not going right, and they know when things need to be improved. And if you listen to them, you can soon improve all those niggly things, which turns an average company into an exceptional company”

Next up was Alison Goodwin, customer support centre manager at Wolseley UK, the UK’s leading distributor of plumbing and building materials and products, who along with Sharon King-Livesey from Transversal, told the story of how Wolseley is putting AI at the heart of their organisational cognitive knowledge and how it is allowing them to reduce customer effort and empower customer support staff. Here’s some things that stood out for me from their talk:

  • Wolseley’s was a rare B2B transformation story and one that started in 2014 with the simple vision of: “make it easier for our customers to do business with us.”
  • Essentially, Alison’s story was one of building an AI augmented but user generated knowledge base that would enable their staff to be able to better serve their customers.
  • They started with 200 ‘seeded’ FAQ-type queries. This quickly grew to over 5,500 entries within a year and now sits at around 7,000 entries and is growing at an average of 30 a day.
  • Staff have really embrace the use and development of the knowledge base and when presented with a query that they don’t know the answer to they are frequently heard to say ‘WOOGLE IT!’
  • They believe that knowledge underpins service.
  • Here’s some of their impressive results:
    • First call resolution has gone from 74% to 98%
    • Customer satisfaction has gone from 80% to 96%
    • The average time to train a new agent has gone from 12 weeks to 8 weeks
    • Employee engagement has gone from 37% to 74%; and
    • They have reduced the number of service related calls by 23%.

Next up was Jon Nasta, Director ecommerce and marketing for Xercise4Less, who told us the story of how they have used member feedback and voice of the customer analysis to focus on their strengths and accelerate their growth. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • Jon started off by getting everyone to stand up, introduce themselves to each of their neighbours, give each of them a hug and then he even threatened to entertain us with a bit of karaoke. Luckily (I think), he didn’t.
  • Next, he got straight into explaining how Xercise4Less had used customer feedback to help them identify and understand what customers liked and didn’t like.
  • People only talk about price when they are unhappy.
  • Through identifying what people liked and didn’t like they were able to identify barriers to people using a gym to achieve their fitness goals, a series of delight factors and the key drivers that will help them grow their business.
  • By being responsive to negative feedback, they have been able to reduce their customer churn by 5%. That, in turn, has lead to more than £300k per month being added to their bottom line, which for a business with a turnover of around £30mln is very significant.

Next up was Amanda Reynolds, Customer Service Director at Affinity Water, who told the story of Affinity Water’s transformation and how they achieved it by focusing on culture with the “you rock” initiative. Here’s some things that stood out for me from her talk:

  • They faced a hefty challenge with issues including an ambitious business plan, a high level of complaints, clunky digital self-serve, billing for multiple brands, a complex supplier set-up, a geographically diverse business and a lack of IT investment.
  • By working with their customers and their people they are now making great strides in their transformation.
  • Here are some of the things they have achieved:
    • They are launching a new self-serve solution, using co-creation with customers, for full multi-channel customer service.
    • They have initially focused on improving core customer journeys but will evolve these to be personalised, aligned to customer segments & local community.
    • They are also going to launch assisted support from a new, enhanced webchat solution
    • And, here’s some of their impressive results:
      • 23% reduction in complaints
      • 33% increase in revenue
      • CSAT increase from 4.31 to 4.6
      • Response rates from 19% – 31%

Next up was Phil Durand, Director, Customer Experience Management at Confirmit, who talked about the use and effectiveness of ‘nudges’ to help achieve transformational change. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • If you are going to use nudge theory in your CX transformation programme, make sure you nudge both your customers and your Exec towards what are the best next steps for them.
  • Phil gave some great examples and encouraged us all to think about feedback from perspective of the customer NOT the business and to think about engagement from perspective of the executive NOT the practitioner.
  • Finally, when thinking about nudges he encouraged us to follow the expertise and guidance of the BIT team and the EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely) framework.

Next up was Rachel Haworth, Customer Experience Director at Coventry Building Society, who started with the controversial title: Why your customer facing staff aren’t the key to better customer engagement. However, rather than ignoring staff she told the story of how Coventry Building Society has delivered enviable business performance and customer loyalty by putting customers first. Here’s some things that stood out for me from her talk:

  • Coventry Building Society are the only financial service institution that has delivered consistent double digit profitable growth before, during and after the financial crisis.
  • Here’s some other impressive stats:
    • They have a savings growth that is twice the market rate and mortgage growth rate that is four times the market rate.
    • They are the most cost efficient building society in UK.
    • They have the highest customer satisfaction of any major bank or building society.
    • They are ranked 1st for mortgages and savings by Fairer Finance.
    • They are one of the Sunday Times Top 100 companies.
    • 92% of staff says “I feel proud to work for this organisation”; and
    • 97% of staff “This organisation can be trusted by its members”.
  • They no longer recruit for skill and now recruit only for attitude and values, which gives them flexible people that they can train and move around the business.
  • Their story and success is built on their vision, building collaboration and giving staff a voice.
  • She ended on a great quote which was:

“Employees need to TRUST the organisation and everyone in it, from the Board to their colleagues, to not just think customer first but to actively put customers first.”

Next up was Chris Humphrey & Andy Wilkins of BE Advisory who told a story of how Disney succeeds because it ensures that its entire workforce has a common understanding of what customers consider value. Here’s some things that stood out for me from their talk:

  • Nowhere in Disney is there a Customer Experience Department.
  • Walt Disney intentionally focused the entire organisation on what customers really want.
  • Successful organisations are highly intentional about creating value that matters to customers.
  • Customer Value is the key to succeeding in the 21st Century
  • You can use Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) to gain clarity on Customer Value
  • Jobs to be done brings deeper insight into what customers truly value

Next up was Darryl Beckford, Head Of Digital Acceleration at Kcom, who talked about how feedback is not the same as insight and what you can do about it so that you drive improvements in your customer experience. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • KCOM are the equivalent of BT in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.
  • When it comes to customer journeys and/or the customer lifecycle they look at them as a series of episodes and these, in turn, are made up of series of ‘transactions’.
  • Feedback is not the same thing as insight
  • In order to keeping making progress, drive for changes *this* week
  • Just like oil, feedback needs to be refined before it’s valuable
  • Insights should be closely aligned to vision and goals

Next up was Rod Butcher, Client Experience Development Lead at Fidelity International, who told us about the role and activities of the small CX design thinking team at Fidelity International and what they have learned and done to achieve success. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • We’re all on a journey. It never stops.
  • Start with a beginner’s mind.
  • We are not our customers. In fact, in many cases, we are nothing like our customers.
  • Old Chinese proverb:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many opportunities. In the expert’s mind there are few”.

  • Great quote from Jeff Bezos:

“Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied…..even when they don’t know it, they want something better”

  • If you want to think differently then you have to act differently
  • The Jump Silo initiative where different colleagues visited each other in their place of work to get a better idea of what they do and how they do it i.e. an analyst visited a colleague in a contact centre and vice versa.

After lunch, Peter Massey, Founder of Budd, gave a talk that looked into the future and considered what skills you will personally need to compete with the takeover by AI and Robotics. On the way he debunked some myths and looked at the likely impacts and the implications for skill sets at a business and personal level. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • We are on an inexorable journey towards the pervasive use of AI and robotics.
  • Peter advocates that we all need to learn more about the application of apps, bots and AI. He advised checking out the IFFFT site which is a free web-based service that people can use to create applets for web services such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. (
  • Given the progress of AI and Robotics, businesses need to develop a point of view if they are going to deal with the changes that are coming.
  • People and business need to get happy with learning about the details of things
  • A passion for people is essential too. That will help us figure out how we can work together to use this technology to produce better outcomes

Following Peter was Bob Stella, Head Of Business Implementation at Legal & General, who shared the story of the last 3 years in L&G’S Insurance Customer Service and how they have introduced 15 robots into the workforce, who are doing the equivalent of 55 people’s work with 100% accuracy and always within service level. But, they only work if their human colleagues choose to support them. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • It doesn’t matter how good your robot is. Unless someone uses it, it has no benefit.
  • The human element in any automation/robotic project is the most crucial.
  • If you don’t manage the change very carefully then the project will fail.
  • Humans are really silly sometimes e.g. “They think a 0.01% error rate by a robot is a much scarier prospect than a 1% error rate by a human” and “They double check the 100% accurate robot’s work, “just in case”
  • Only by truly focusing on our people when introducing robotic colleagues in the workplace can we get the best from our robots and the best out of us.

After Bob and Peter’s presentations they stayed on for a lively panel Q&A session. I was facilitating so I didn’t take notes 🙁

We then broke for caffeine.

After grabbing some coffee we got started again and this time it was my turn as I had been asked to stand in late the week before for a presenter who had dropped out.

In my talk, I posed the question: What are you willing to change to achieve transformation? and shared a number of case studies of companies that are taking innovative approaches to their own transformation and the variables/levers that they are using to achieve their own transformation. The levers included the innovative use of new tech to enable front line staff, different ways of working, the role of purpose and community, income and time.

The penultimate presentation of the day came from Mike Gibney, Director Of Workforce at NHS Walton Centre who shared the story of how despite the much-publicised challenges facing the NHS, innovation is thriving across the NHS system. However, because the work moves at such a pace, much that is innovative and transformational remains hidden from external view and is rarely celebrated. Here’s some things that stood out for me from his talk:

  • There are some amazing applications occurring within the NHS in relation to virtual reality, 3D printing and now artificial intelligence.
  • Much of the innovation is using cutting edge technology but only now are they starting to tell people about it.
  • However, their innovation doesn’t stop there and they are also innovating in how they treat and encourage physical and mental well-being.
  • Remarkable story given the context of budget cuts, nationally set wage increases and increasingly difficult year on year working conditions.
  • However, the Trust now enjoys the highest possible CQC quality rating (outstanding) and is in the top five nationally for staff engagement.

Our last presentation came from Abu Siddeeq, Customer Experience Manager at Great Western Railway & Neil Martin, Director of The First Word who shared how through modernising how they communicate, particular when it comes to the written word, and how that has helped Great Western Railway transform engagement with customers. Here’s some things that stood out for me from their talk:

  • Abu had an epiphany when he read CEB’s HBR article: Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers.
  • Be brilliant at the basics
  • The power of words.
  • Real speak not rail speak
  • People need to learn what empowerment really means. You can’t go from ‘battery farmed’ to ‘free range’ without support.
  • That is particularly true when it comes to skills like writing.
  • Not all of the the work is externally focused but internally too. They have estimated that they have upwards of internal 200 documents to review and rewrite.
  • Rewriting is the easy bit…embedding is hard (particularly in a large organisation).
  • Can’t ever just be about customer engagement…don’t forget your employees.

That seems a fitting few words to end this round up on.

A good day, a really interesting day full of stories and people doing great things.

Wish you were there.

See you next time?

This post was originally published on the Engage Customer website here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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