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Them and us: why agencies can transform your CX

Jen Musgreave
Planning Partner
RAPP

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Jen is a strategic specialist in loyalty and customer engagement for consumer, mobile and media brands, working across a number of RAPP’s biggest clients including Virgin Mobile, Heist, and Christies Auction House.

By harnessing agencies, brands can ensure their customer experience delivers the brand promise

Most brands struggle with customer experience, because different teams are responsible for different touchpoints, and they commonly operate in silos. This is the eternal dilemma of change:

If customer experience is to improve, someone has to own it.

If someone owns it, no one else takes responsibility for it, so it gets pushed down the priority list…

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Simply put, customer experience is the customer’s perception of how a brand behaves, based on all their interactions with it. It’s the brand promise, delivered, and it has the power to transform businesses. The customer experience should have internal and external coherence and integrity, both digitally and in real life.

Most brands can design and deliver a single customer experience delivered by a product, an app or website; but aligning other touchpoints like stores or call centres presents a bigger challenge. The Holy Grail is to connect these individual contacts into a coherent and consistent whole – a brand experience that feels deliberate rather than accidental.

I believe the transformational power of customer experience lies in jointly held responsibility, with each team bound by a brand-level set of principles and acting in concert with the others to deliver the brand promise. The common principles are a lodestar – an internal Brand Experience Charter that everyone adheres to. And, like all change, it needs time and C-suite sponsorship to bed in.


The transformational power of customer experience lies in jointly held responsibility


This has certainly been my experience with several blue-chip consumer brands. I led the client-side CX Innovation team in one such business and oversaw a successful transformational change, with the help of a strategic agency. Initially, CX was led by a small, largely ignored, team in the marketing department. It was well intentioned but powerless and fragmented. We brought in the agency to help us define the brand’s customer experience across all departments in a Brand Experience Charter; they also trained stakeholder teams across the business in journey mapping, and helped each area develop an implementation plan for applying the Charter locally.

Then the CX team was taken over by the Customer Service organisation. Here it grew to an 80-person division of six teams, spreading its tentacles throughout the business, influencing every aspect of product and service delivery. This meant there were more CX champions to establish and bed in the common Charter, processes and governance as the accepted way of doing things. An important part of the governance was the ‘Board Walkthrough’. Before any new experience was given the green light for launch, the originator and the CX champion staged a walkthrough in a dedicated board meeting slot. Sometimes it included role-play in mocked up stores or prototype screenshots: whatever would bring the experience to life most effectively. The proposal was then scored against the Charter, mitigations for any gaps were discussed and the decision made.

When two layers of management left and the CX team was reduced from 80 to 20 in a wave of redundancies, the thinking and processes held, for two reasons: the team was big enough at the bedding in stage to enforce the new way of working; and the board both sponsored and were involved in the process of designing and delivering new customer experiences throughout. So, without the extended teams to police, but with the continued board level focus, the responsibility for each part of the overall experience continued to be owned by fully accountable department teams, and it all laddered up to the commonly held Brand Experience Charter. It worked, fortuitously in this case, because the expansion and contraction of in-house resource happened at just the right time.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting recruiting and laying off huge numbers of people to transform your customer experience, but I am suggesting that agencies can play a vital role in the creation and facilitation of this change.


Agencies can guide, challenge, cajole and persuade clients towards best practice and the interests of the customer


Agencies are external, neutral, expert. And Brand and CX thinking are fundamental tools in their approach and ethos. Our strategic role at RAPP is to be the customer obsessive – because most marketers are measured on commercial targets and the line between customer benefit and business benefit is constantly blurring for them. The agency guides, challenges, cajoles and persuades clients towards best practice and the interests of the customer. This neutrality and customer focus helps us facilitate the creation of Brand Experience Charters for clients and their stakeholders. Depending on the brand, the principles in a Charter tend to cluster around three pillars: relevance, value (or utility) and the brand point of difference – for example:

Relevance

“We make sure our customers know exactly what they're going to gain from an interaction or from sharing their personal information with us – at the exact time when it could enhance their experience.”

Value

“We demonstrate how our interactions can add value to our customer experience, using Choice, Control and Community levers to bring them simple inspirational tips that enhance everyday life.”

Brand point of difference

“We're the first to take a stand on the big issues affecting our customers.”

The beauty of transforming customer experience using agencies is that the initial driving force is seen to be top down and facilitated by an external expert. Agencies can facilitate the adoption of CX goals and ways of working by all parts of the business - so that there’s no need for a big in-house team to monopolise CX.

With the whole business set up to jointly own it, the customer experience has the best possible chance to become a true differentiator, and the ultimate manifestation of the brand promise.


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