We constantly strive to analyze the true nature of CX and to understand where brands go wrong through our conversations with some of the leading voices in the industry.
And we got an opportunity to speak with author, customer experience consultant and advisor Adrian Swinscoe, who brings more than 20 years of experience. He has worked as a consultant for top brands such as Apple, Diesel, Costa Coffee, Shell, and Harper Collins. Adrian has also written several bestselling business books and is also a prolific podcaster, having started his Punk CX podcast back in 2011, or as he puts it “before podcasting was cool”.
Having conducted over 450 interviews, he’s a firm believer in the medium of podcasting, insisting that having so many conversations with renowned people has made him smarter. Adrian is a regular columnist for Forbes.
Adrian begins by saying that he doesn’t consider himself an expert, but rather a student. He believes there is always more to learn about the customer experience. Or to put it even more simply:
“How do we build and develop organizations that produce better outcomes for their people (customers, employees, suppliers, and investors)?”
Why Focus on Customer Experience?
Adrian’s line of enquiry grew out of a frustration he felt when encountering poor customer service.
“Having built and developed teams and organizations that had customer and employee value at their heart, it always frustrated me that organizations get in the way of their people doing a good job.”
He also makes an important point about how to achieve the end of great CX, pointing out that “you can’t do customer experience. You can do stuff, and then there’s what people experience.”
It’s an important distinction and a subtle one, and it’s often misunderstood, Adrian explains.
You can’t tell a customer what their experience should be – it’s a more organic and unpredictable process than that. For this reason, Adrian prefers to focus on service; that’s the bit it’s possible to directly control.
Podcasting as Research and Development
Adrian admits that he doesn’t focus much on audience figures in his podcast series. He’s more interested in using the platform as both a “research and development lab” as well as a place for learning development. He’s trying to be useful more than he’s aiming for popularity.
“I get a chance to create a platform to shine a light on people who are doing good things, have an interesting perspective, or are saying something. It becomes a mutually beneficial thing.”
The Myths of Customer Experience
Adrian directed our attention to a framed poster he keeps at home which reads “customer experience is more than f****ing metrics.” In this data-driven age, when we are so obsessed with proving the success of a strategy in numerical terms, this bold statement serves to remind us of what really matters – the subjective experience of each customer.
Simple rubrics along the lines of “customer experience is all about…” which are completed with buzzwords like metrics, AI, emotional connection, are all too simplistic. Such formulations try to reduce a complicated relationship and network of interactions into a soundbite. In his typically pithy manner, Adrian boils it down to a quote from his 2019 book Punk CX:
“Are you an artist, or are you just coloring in?”
Too many people, Adrian explains, are just doing the latter – following tired and simplistic formulas that can only result in the same uninspiring result.
CX is About Problem-solving
A better way to think about customer experience, says Adrian, is to think about it as solving customers’ problems. Ideally you do so in a way that serves both brand and business. What’s important is to strike a balance between delivering the right solution and doing so in a way that works for your business.
“There’s no point in having a gold-plated service and a low-cost business model.”
There’s no need to “wow” and “delight” our customers – sometimes all customers want is for “something to work.” Adrian references author Jack Springman’s notion of the “appropriate” solution.
Customer Experience is an Industry in Itself
Adrian believes that in some ways there is too much focus on customer experience as a universal panacea when it should be the outcome of the rest of the business working optimally.
The bottom line remains essential to your CFO. If there’s no real return on investment, having excellent customer experience will not fill that gap.
The Role of the Customer Experience Manager
The nature and value of the customer experience manager role differs from case to case. Here, Adrian has something “heretical” to say:
“I sometimes wish the whole Customer Experience space would just go away.”
The reason he sometimes feels this way is that the separation of this concept from every other business operation is illusory. Customer experience has always been there. However, the companies we consider leaders in this space often don’t talk about it in these explicit terms.
Adrian advises not making this artificial distinction between CX and the rest of a business’s operations. He suggests considering a CE manager role as temporary, designed to solve a finite problem. It’s also important to figure out where this role is aligned. Does it lie within marketing, sales, operations, or service?
Ultimately, says Adrian, there are just two problems for a CX manager to solve:
“Figure out how the business can add value to the customers; figure out how doing that can add value to the business.”
How to Communicate CX from Frontline to C-suite
Here Adrian references the TV reality show “Undercover Boss” in which senior executives are disguised and sent to work in the front line of their own company. Inevitably, participants are surprised by the unexpected problems and innovative solutions they encounter.
They have typically been so distant from the place where customer interactions occur that they have no clear picture of what’s really going on.
“Data informs people, stories move people, but actual, direct, first-hand experience will compel people.”
The best solution for such a lack of understanding is to bring C-Suite executives to the front line to gain first-hand experience of what the day-to-day CX issues are. If that’s not possible, bring them stories from the front line which will move them, suggests Adrian.
Companies who connect their executives to reality on the ground in this way promote real understanding. Of course, what’s vital is that executives really want to understand.
Contact Centers and the Customer Journey
Adrian cites a recent Accenture report which revealed that only 20% of companies had made the mindset shift from thinking about call centers in the traditional mode to seeing them as “value centers.” This is a huge shame, Adrian thinks, since the remaining 80% are missing a significant opportunity.
“Contact centers are an incredible jewel in the crown of most organizations. They are a mine of data, and a hub of potential and opportunity, but it requires people to think differently about them.”
Change in thinking comes as marketing officers invest in contact center-based projects, unleashing the huge potential which remains to be tapped. As well as a mindset shift, it requires a strong business case, so that more money can be funneled into these centers for such project work.
After all, live contact between people remains invaluable. It is, however, expensive, compared to modern innovations like chatbots and communication automation. A convincing case must be made for the inherent value of real, in-person customer communication.
Essential Trends in Customer Experience
Adrian highlights two aspects of CX which businesses should focus on, one of which is a perennial issue, and the other a less well-known problem.
Firstly, he believes:
“Brands need to ask themselves ‘what is the vision they have for the experience they want to deliver’?”
This should be explained in the form of a story, rather than a glib one-liner. It should be a compelling vision, fully thought-out. The story that can be told from an ideal customer journey helps a business stay on track. It unifies all the different components of the customer experience.
Furthermore, Adrian explains, your customer experience statement cannot be built from buzzwords like omnichannel, frictionless, or AI-enabled.
“Tell me the story about what your customer currently gets, and what you would like them to get […] and how are you going to achieve that in a way that makes sense for the business.”
Doing so will also reveal the difficult choices that must be implemented.
The second insight Adrian stresses is that customer experience does not necessarily go hand in hand with shifting more units. Or as Adrian puts it:
“Brands need to get past the idea that creating a personalized experience does not mean that you have to sell more stuff to someone.”
Instead, it simply means giving customers what they want. Customers want to be heard, understood, and helped. If companies do that, they are achieving brilliant CX.
Putting himself in a customer’s shoes for a moment, Adrian suggests:
“If you want to know what I really want, then why don’t you ask me?”
Adrian notes that we are in the process of moving away from using third-party cookies to track customer journeys. In this new world, how are we going to understand our customer’s behavior?
Securing all this first- and third-party data will only take you so far. From first party-data, Adrian says we need to move to “zero party data.” In other words, you simply and directly ask customers what they want, like and don’t like.
Combining customer responses with first-party data, you can begin to create truly personalized experiences.
It’s often the case you don’t recall the details of buying a product, but you often remember how the salesperson handled the interaction.
Adrian quotes Maya Angelou who wrote “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
You can’t necessarily compare a local shop to a luxury hotel, Adrian explains. But both customer experiences can be equally valuable and important. Both businesses can deliver the same type of excellence in CX. Both businesses can focus upon how a customer feels.
In closing, Adrian says:
“The root of the word education comes from the Latin word educare, and one of the interpretations of what that word means is to light a fire within. That’s what I try to do.”
Adrian certainly left us with plenty to think about, inspiring us to rethink how we deliver excellence in customer experience. He definitely kindled that fire and the drive to do better!
You can watch the full conversation with Adrian Swinscoe here. You can also explore our webinars covering the exciting space of CX, featuring in-depth insights on customer service, contact center technologies, and trends.