How to Sustain Customer Experience Improvements: Removing Pain or Reducing Effort is Not Enough


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In a number of studies, we regularly see customer experience improvements made by brands in an individual year. Sometimes these improvements are made from an initial low starting point and are not sustained and the gap in customer expectations and delivery then actually widens by a subsequent reversal of fortunes in future years. In order to sustain and capitalise on improvements, there needs to be a move from short-term fixing to group-wide, top-down committed, improvement programmes.

Change doesn’t happen overnight

When we talk to clients, as customer experience experts, about customer-led transformation, i.e. aligning and executing around the customer to deliver experiences that are better than the customer’s previous ones; we try to manage their expectations, making clear that this kind of organisation-wide, deep-rooted change takes time.

Customer experience or change roadmaps that are tailored to the areas of change that an organisation needs to focus on, should be framed around a minimum 2-3 year period. That being true, are we likely to see great improvements when 2018 is over? It’s unlikely.

Sustainable or short-lived?

We only need to look at KPMG Nunwood’s CEE annual study. In 2016 the biggest movers or customer experience improvers included Saga, Travelodge, Marriott and Virgin Holidays. Looking at the 2017 list, it had a different set of brands identified including Burton, Standard Life, Littlewood, and Churchill. Why had the original 2016 list seen their improvement efforts stall and were they still heading in the right direction? Many of that original 2016 list had actually dropped down the league table rather than continue to rise.

The above brands haven’t sustained their performance according to this study. Customer Experience isn’t about short-term improvements or fixes which is so often what we find it is used for. It is a discipline, an approach, a philosophy which isn’t to be the ‘flavour of the month’ and then shelved once improvement projects are completed. What’s the point in investing time, effort and resource for it to be wasted as brands end up back where they were before the programme – i.e. not maintaining a focus on keeping up with customer expectations.

Source: KPMG Nunwood, ‘The Connected Experience’

Temporary Blip or Rock Solid Improvement?

Some brands, however, do appear to have sustained their customer experience performance. 

I wanted to look at a UK example that appears to have found the answer to sustained customer experience improvement. It is on KPMG Nunwood’s published most ‘transformed brands’ over the period 2013-2017. Looking at this example of good practice, we can see some clues and learnings as to what can make the difference between maintainable progress and one-off blips.

Center Parcs have an overall position of 12 out of 295 brands and are second in their category, only after the outstanding Emirates.

Center Parcs are a short break leisure destination, located in woodlands with lots of activities for families. They have an impressive occupancy rate year in year out of over 95%.

The Center Parcs’ service promise is:

“We would like to wish you a very enjoyable stay with us. At Center Parcs, we are committed to delivering a memorable experience every time you visit.”

They have a high degree of loyal customers who visit year after year. Evidence points to an emotional connection with guests which makes them want to come back again and again. In the voice of one guest:

“We get a discount every time we book because we’ve been so many times, and I like the little chat we have when we arrive at the arrivals lodge and that they can see we’ve been before – it’s great that they care about the memories we’ve created as a family. They are also really good if something goes wrong. I remember Dad once put the electric kettle on the hob (don’t ask) and within an hour they had replaced the entire hob, no questions asked. I loved the recent advert with the bears, it made me feel all nostalgic about when you were kids.”

And another who recently went back to Centre Parcs unexpectedly said this:

“It’s very different to the other holidays we take, it feels a bit like going to nowhere, another world where what goes on beyond the fence is not worth worrying about. And I’ve a feeling we have some more fabulous family memories to make there yet.”
Source: Pixabay

Not only have they moved up 89 places in the KPMG Nunwood rankings since 2013 but Center Parcs was also named as the top travel company in the Institute of Customer Service’s biannual UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). The UKCSI is the national measure of customer satisfaction and is devised from a biannual online survey. The index used information supplied by 10,000 customers and 40,000 individual customer experiences.

Center Parcs have also been crowned contact Centre league champions, named best for customer service in the travel and hospitality sector in partnership with the International Customer Management Institute which is an independent programme that helps the UK’s most forward-thinking and respected brands benchmark their customer experience. Each contact centre in the programme is measured through 125 mystery shopping interactions at various times of day, by a range of enquiry types and scenarios. Interactions included calls, email and social media.

It’s not all rosy. Last September and October 2017 Center Parcs was accused of misleading potential visitors at one of its locations, after closing a popular attraction and refusing compensation to affected guests. Even the best at customer experience can make mistakes and get things wrong. What happens in recovery and learning to ensure it doesn’t happen again is paramount.

The clues to such an improvement over a sustained period of time are:

  • Appreciation and use of guest data as a business asset or ‘golden source’ to really understand guests and their party’s behaviour in one single source of the truth
  • Personalisation with data analytics to offer proactive tailored experiences and other touches g. guests can send personalised framed photocards to loved ones
  • Customer value segmentation e.g. broadening their audience and offer away from families with small children e.g. a move away from the traditional swimming/cycling activities to a huge range that appeals to many more guests so that they stay guests for longer periods of their lives
  • Employees (over 7,500) form part of an engaged ‘family’ with a low turnover and some people having been in the business for 30 years
  • A focus on greater silo-free working given the spread of employees across five villages and head office with a collaborative ‘tribe’ approach
  • Innovations to make the customer experience seamless, easier and more convenient g. wristbands to open lodge doors, lock lockers within the spa and pool, to enable guests to pay throughout the estate without the need for cash
  • Investment (£80m) in, and enhancement of, their product proposition
    Lodge refurbishment and new style accommodation

How to get to sustainable CX performance?

This is more than fixing pain points or removing friction or voice of customer case management or NPS measurement. CX transformation, that can be sustained over time comes from a rigorous, disciplined and intentional group-wide focus on:

  1. Quality Execution: This is your CX 1.0. It’s systematically delivering the basics as well as you can. Understanding pain and delight points and continually seeking to improve delivery quality
  2. Renovation & Innovation: This is your CX 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and so on. As the basics are put in place and issues fixed, the focus can be on exceeding expectations through creativity and innovation to keep pace with the consumers of tomorrow
  3. Organisation Alignment: This is a biggie that is often done in a piecemeal way or left till after 1 & possibly 2 have been explored. Internal and partner alignment can be either a key barrier to CX improvement or a key enabler. CX is everyone’s business and so this includes endorsement & visible ownership of the customer from the top, customer metrics connected to business/commercial/people KPIs, customer experience reinforcing behaviours, capability matching.
  4. Customer Driven Decision-making: Continually walking in the customers’ shoes, continually listening, analysing and following up on their feedback whether new or existing data, establishing an access to all insight ecosystem – so that the businesses decision making is customer-led (and evidenced)

I read an article recently that talked about the Chief Customer Officer at Mercer, Cambell Holt, who divides up organisations into two types:

  • Those who have understood for a long time the primacy of the customer in terms of their own survival, and
  • Those that have been focused on the transaction, with customer value being a secondary output

I totally agree with this. We come across both in our helping, coaching and guiding organisations towards better experiences for customers. Which type are you and can you drive sustainable customer led change?

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


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