Jun 11, 2021
CX simply means putting the customer first and relentlessly improving their experience of your business. Host Will Francis chats with veteran marketer and trainer Joe Wilde of MacDigital about putting the customer at the center of your strategy, in both offline and online marketing.
Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A, where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Joe Wilde about customer experience, or CX as it's referred to, which simply means putting the customer first, placing them at the center of your strategy, and relentlessly improving their experience of your business. Joe is the founder and CEO of Dublin-based digital agency, Mac Digital. He's an experienced marketer with over 20 years in the game. Joe's delivered digital marketing, CX, eCommerce, and brand development campaigns for small to medium-sized businesses, educational institutions, and major brands, including Diageo, Heineken, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens, Red Bull, and the Irish Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation. Joe, welcome to the podcast. Great to have you on.
Joe: Thanks very much, Will. Very good to be here.
Will: Good. Yeah, same here. I mean, you know, it's something we don't really talk much about this whole customer experience thing, I think, particularly in digital circles. Can sometimes feel a bit overlooked, perhaps, but, you know, I explained very briefly what CX is there in the intro, but I mean, obviously, you're the expert. Just tell us what customer experience is to you and the role that it plays in your work?
Joe: So, to me, customer experience is a really kind of exciting and a hot topic. And it didn't just start with digital. So, for me, it's all of your customer interactions with your brand or company over time across all your touchpoints, okay? Simple as that. That sounds very easy to say. But there's a lot of kind of detail in that, both online and offline. So all of your customer interactions with your brand or company over time, both offline and online.
Will: Right. Okay, so that's walking in a store, if it's in your website, seeing a tweet, potentially anything really.
Joe: Potentially anything. I mean, customer experience and this whole kind of bows about customer experience that's been going on for the last couple of years, it didn't start with digital, okay, customer experience predates digital. If you look at it, kind of hotel chains or kind of airlines, all of this is your customer experience. And now just we're doing a lot more of your customer experience online. So my challenge of late has been marrying up those experiences both between your offline experience and your online experience and what does that look like and what does that look like post-COVID when hopefully we'll be coming out of things.
Will: Yeah. Well, that's the tricky thing is that, I mean, I've heard people refer to this idea of a single view of the customer. Are you familiar with that?
Joe: Yes, I am. But like a single view, I'm not sure that you're ever going to get down to a level of detail where you have a single view of your core customer personas.
Will: Because, you know, the dream, I mean, from any marketers' point of view, the dream, right, is to understand when Joe goes into my restaurant chain and sits down, logs onto the Wi-Fi or there's a bowl of noodles and a drink, then goes home and sees one of our ads in social and then four days later opens a newsletter, we'd love to know that that was the same person, right? We'd love to know that that was the same Joe that did all those things so that we can basically orchestrate more relevant, personalized messaging into them based on what kind of customer they are and how they interact with those and what they need from us. But you're right, when I talk to people about that, I mean, there are a few examples of that but it does seem a very hard bridge to cross, you know?
Joe: I agree with you and I think it's an aspirational bridge and it's certainly something that we should work towards. But I find that a lot of digital marketing...well, not a lot, some digital marketers can get lost in trying to find this single view of the customer, can get lost in the detail, without looking at customer experience and saying, "Well, this is customer experience. This has to lead the business outcomes." So it's really important, from my perspective, that you draw a line between what you're trying to achieve and then you get on and you do the work.
Will: Yeah. And you know when I was sort of researching this episode, I was thinking it's interesting because customer experience, it seems to be just a part of everybody's job in the business. So, you know, surely if you go in as a customer experience, consultant expert, or agency, is you basically just do a lot of treading on people's toes. You're gonna be telling the sales staff what to do, you're gonna be telling the marketing staff what to do, the in-store stuff and, you know, to try and orchestrate this perfect, kind of, 360-degree experience for the customer. So, how do you, sort of, surmount that challenge as someone who goes into businesses and helps them improve their customer experience?
Joe: Well, you would hope that in 2021 that they will have some level of that done already. If I take you back to kind of the start of my career and working with clients, they might have a customer...a number of departments that are all customer-facing in some shape or form. So, they'd have a customer service department, they'd have maybe a care line or a hotline associated with that. They'd have a brand marketing team. They'd have a sponsorship team. They'd have a PR team, and they'd maybe have a corporate relations team. And now, with digital, it's really important that all of these are joined up and the customer experience and your customer-facing departments are all in sync. Yes, that is difficult to achieve but it's an organizational...it has to come from the top down. It's not something that maybe marketing can just do a little bit of. Doing a little bit, of course, from experience isn't good enough because this is moving us towards the business objectives that we want to get to.
Will: Yes, that's a good point, isn't it? That you can't just sprinkle a little bit of magic dust because I think there's probably that perception out there that you can do a bit of the customer delight things, you know, like a little free gift in the eCommerce packaging the post or a little kind of surprise in store. But do you think there's a danger of focusing on the customer delight bit without covering the basics and making sure you've delivered on a basic level the customer's needs?
Joe: Yeah, there absolutely is. And I've seen that kind of happen with clients and with other organizations where it's just a little bit. But it's not, for me, everything that you do on customer experience has to be backed by your strategy, okay? So if we're looking at a customer experience, as I said earlier on, it's not a new phenomenon. It comes from customer relationship management. And if you care about customer relationship management, that's three things is customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer development. So what you're trying to do is you're trying to ensure that you don't lose customers and that you retain and develop your existing customers and you build brand loyalty. And doing little bits of customer experience here and there might be a little bit of customer delight, as you say, but there's no longevity. There has to be a framework or kind of systemic approach to customer experience.
Will: Yes. No, I absolutely get that. I mean, just to kind of put this in context for listeners, what brands are the go-to examples in customer experience today?
Joe: Okay, if you're doing any research in this space, it's the likes of the Disney's, it's the likes of the Apple's, it's the likes of Netflix, okay? It's the likes of these companies who just...like the goal of a marketeer is to create value for both you as an organization for your customer. So these brands that I've mentioned are the organizations who really add value and make it easy. Your goal as well is to make it easy for the customer to become a customer and then to stay as a customer and then to spend more and more with you. And part of a customer experience is about making that path or this path to purchase simple.
Will: Yes. And I see how, I mean, Apple are a go-to example for lots of things, right? But I can see how they really understand customer experience because they make people feel good about being in their store, being on their website, buying a product. I mean, they are the originator of the unboxing fetish that we live with in modern times. They are definitely the kind of, you know, progenitor of that whole thing. And so, yeah, I can see why they would be an example. But within an organization, I mean, so whose job is it then, you know, where does it land, whose desk does it typically land on to make sure that that stuff is right?
Joe: It tends to be a hot potato, okay, across a number of desks. And for me, as a marketer, I think it should be marketing-lead because you're customer-facing, you're talking to customers and potential customers on a day-to-day basis. But like in some organizations, it is maybe you have a chief customer officer, but to me, that seems to be only a lot of, kind of, the bigger organizations can afford to look at customer experience with that depth. Whereas I'm a firm believer that all organizations need to look at their customer experience, whether they're small to medium enterprise or they're a large organization, they have to put some sort of a framework in place for your customer experience.
Will: Okay, so breaking it down to, you know, a really small practical level, let's say I'm a local shop and I sell kind of artisan goods, like handmade, handcrafted goods but it's a small shop, what kind of touchpoints within that experience will I typically start to look at or would you look at coming in as an external agency for those kind of CX quick wins?
Joe: Yeah. And quick wins is where you start because you're never gonna fix your CX overnight, you have to look at this as an iterative process, okay? So, you take it step by step. So looking at this local artisan, good, my basic question is how do your customers find you? And I know that sounds really, really simple but that's my basic question. And then we look at the different, whether that's online, whether it's offline, and I essentially just map those processes. So there's a friend of mine that has a local brewery and every couple of months I find that a couple of UX issues, now we'll come back to UX in a second, but the customer experience issues by mapping how does your customer find you and what's their paths to purchase?
Will: Right. Okay, so, yeah, mapping that out and then what? Looking for key kind of points along that timeline where you can make improvements?
Joe: Making improvements and making it easier, okay? Remember, we're in a situation where everybody's time-poor. They don't want to have to be a little bit confused as to, A, your website, or how does this work? They want to get to where they want to get to as quickly as possible. And it's your job as an organization to make that process pleasurable and make it as quick as possible for them.
Will: Yeah, and I think that's where a lot of digital leaders like Netflix and Spotify have done so well. I think the way they talk about it, the way they think about it is reducing friction, you know, so making the task of listening to that, you know, old Rolling Stones track that you've got in your head as frictionless as possible, you know, sitting down and finding something to watch on telly as frictionless as possible, right? Because that is what makes the best customer experience is actually getting out of the way.
Joe: It is. And if you take the example of Netflix, okay, if you sign out of Netflix or you open Netflix on a different browser where you're not signed in, the homepage doesn't focus, it certainly notes the content that's available on Netflix. It doesn't show you any actors but it's basically a homepage of frequently asked questions. So if you go down back to looking at personas, it's like, "How do I sign up? Am I tied into a contract? Can I cancel? What devices can I watch?" So they're on the homepage. Somebody who say, "Oh, I might sign up for Netflix." All the answers are there as a kind of the homepage is a frequently asked questions section for the customer, as you say, to make it frictionless, to make that path to purchase frictionless.
Will: Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing. Head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com/aheadofthegame, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast.
So when you're engaged by a business to come and work on their CX and improve their customer experience, what actually happens? Like, what's the first step and then where does it go?
Joe: The starting point is looking at your customer and mapping basic… and a lot of times my personal experience is to map it out on a piece of paper. So you map out your customer journey from pre-awareness. This is marketing 101. So marketing 101, we're talking about awareness, interest, desire, and action, okay? So what we're doing in the customer experience journey, we're looking pre-awareness, and we're saying, "Okay, how does a customer hear about us? If we match our personas to the channels that we're using, how does my customer hear about me?" And then how do they navigate the path to purchase? And it's about mapping out the digital touchpoints and looking at what the customer experience is going to be across all of these digital touchpoints. And then we overlay then, if it's a bricks and mortar store, which is transitioning into eCommerce, we're looking at the in-store experience as well.
And it's a challenge because we're looking at how can we marry the two? The likes of Next in the UK, where Next, if you order online, you can return in store. So, this kind of like essentially making it easier, but getting down to the practical level of what's that look like? What is making... If a customer gets to this landing page on our website, how can we make it as easy for them to get their product? And on the flip side, how do we get them to return it? It's about looking at our content. So I was reading some research recently that suggests that a lot of organizations get content wrong and the content strategy isn't mapped to their customer experience strategy. And that's something else that needs to be joined up when we talk about joining the dots between customer experience and business.
Will: So, you know, we have to understand the customer. How do you do that? How do you get inside customers' heads? What kind of research is involved there?
Joe: If we look at a customer research, Will, and how we research our customer, know our customer best, like there's lots of options available to us, okay? In a digital world, we have so many options in terms of surveys, in terms of social listening, in terms of, well, post-COVID now, we'll be getting back into focus groups and getting into talking and dealing with the customers. From a B2B sense, it's your sales staff understanding their customer, understanding what drives them, okay? And a lot of times it's asking your customer, like, "How can we make it easier for you?" It's not necessarily, "Well, what I'm going to do, the customer is going to like this." It's about understanding being close to the customer if that answers your question.
Will: Yeah. So give me an example, like so in terms of social listening, is it seeing what people are saying about your business and your products or about similar products about trying to find their frustrations? Is it that kind of thing?
Joe: It is. That's part of it. It's also about assessing reviews. I've seen a jump in the last 18 months in terms of the importance of reviews, and it's been happening anyway, but by understanding and having like, as a marketer, you have to have your finger on the pulse. If you don't have your finger on the pulse of what's happening with your customer, well, then like are you in the right job? You should be asking yourself that one.
Will: Well, yeah, that's true of the reviews, isn't it? I mean, whether or not you set up reviews, there's sites like Trustpilot review and things like that, even Glassdoor which is where people review what you're like as an employer.
Joe: Yeah, exactly.
Will: So, you know, it's not optional, is it?
Joe: No, it's not. Like people are talking about you anyway. So it's really important that you understand what they're saying. And then you bring that into your CX framework and you understand that as well.
Will: And this more proactive stuff where you kind of, you know, you go to focus groups or surveys, what are you trying to find out there? Like, what are you really asking them?
Joe: I suppose it goes back to what I said earlier, you're trying to kind of find out, well, brand affinity, you're trying to find out how likely they are to recommend you and this goes across all research. But you're really trying to kind of get to the essence of your customer and find out how can you deliver value for them, okay? Your job is to create value and deliver value for your customer. And then on the content side of it, you need to communicate that value. But what you're trying to do there is you're trying to find out how can we add value to you, okay? And like look at the IKEA place up, like people can just scan and put an item in the room now. That's adding real value, okay?
GeoLook has done something similar with their visualizer app, where somebody doesn't have to go to a paint store and come back with samples and dab little samples on the wall. They're asking the customer, and they're trying to get a sense from the customer, and get that insight, okay? Like, the customer doesn't always tell you what they want, okay? But it's about trying to gather insights from the customer so you can turn that insight into action. So if we look then and we take a step back, I always look at insight like data insight action. So the data that you have from a customer service, you can do lots of research. And that's another kind of point I'm big on, you can research from here till next Christmas, but you need to have data and that data has to give you insight and that insight has to lead to an action. And you might not always be right with the action, but it has to lead to some marketing or customer-focused action.
Will: Yeah, absolutely. Good point. Data insight action.
Joe: And it was David Ogilvy who said that in 1969, he said, "The marketeers are coming to rely on data like a drunk uses a lamppost for support rather than illumination." And I think that's gone full circle again.
Will: Wow. He said that in 1969.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah.
Will: That's fascinating, isn't it?
Will: Wow, that's really interesting. I mean, yeah, there's a couple of points there, isn't there really? I suppose, in terms of asking people what they want, I suppose we can never directly do that. But we have to sort of somehow come up with questions that give us the basis for understanding what they want. I guess it's asking them, you know, "What problems do you have in your life that we can fix?" Or, you know, how do you...
Joe: Or even just to take it another way, I don't know if you remember the Walker's campaign a few years ago, where they were trying to...obviously, they're on a cost-cutting mission and they were trying to get rid of one of their lines of Walkers crisps. So they got their customers to vote on it on social. Like simple. We can use simple tools to find out what our customers want as well.
Will: Yeah, that's very true, isn't it? So this sounds great. But with these kind of conversations, a lot of people's minds do go to the topic of ROI and is a tough question. So what specific business objectives do you think a kind of renewed focus on CX can drive for a business?
Joe: It builds your brand, okay? In an era where brand loyalty is declining or people have less interest in brands and people are the WIFM, what's in it for me? So you're building your brand, you're building loyalty, and ultimately, you're building bottom line.
Will: Yes. But like you say, that's not something that's going to happen tomorrow. It is an inherently long-term thing, isn't it? And so it is similar to your brand-type exercise. It is part of your brand, I suppose. I mean, just talk to me for a minute about how brand plays into CX.
Joe: So if we look at brands...like think of any good brands that we know of that deliver customer experience excellence, okay? And that doesn't do your brand any harm. It's completely on the flip side. It helps you build your brand. It assist you to build your brand. So if we are a new organization, a startup who's in the eCommerce space and we offer an amazing CX, that's only going to help us grow our brand, okay? It's going to help us kind of grow our brand equity. And when I say brand equity, I mean, it's going to help us grow the value of our brand over time. I think it Zappos whose tagline on their website is "Powered By Service." The customer experience, customer service, it's all coming from the same family. And if your brand becomes renowned for customer experience or customer service, well, that's a really positive thing. And it gives you a platform to grow and to grow your organization. And we look at with the growth of social and the growth of digital, like it's a word of mouth. And good experience, people tell each other about their good experiences, and more so about their bad experiences.
Will: Yeah, true.
Joe: You can have a really strong brand, but really poor CX, okay? And they're the kind of organizations for me, it's a challenge to go in. And a lot of times what you're trying to do is you're trying to challenge the thought process, you're trying to challenge the culture. You don't have the senior management buy-in that they understand or that they not even respect but they see the value in an implementation of a CX program.
Will: I find that with Ryanair. I think Ryanair are a fascinating business. Because the customer experience a lot of people complain about the customer experience, but actually the basics of it are perfectly good and they're quite open about how basic it is. And they always have been in a weird sort of way. So when the coffee's actually quite good, and the coffee's actually decent on a Ryanair flight, you're like, "Oh, great. You're really happy about it." I mean, because your expectations are so low. But you're fine with that because you spent about 12 quid to fly between like Dublin and Manchester or something. So, it's interesting to me that interplay because on the other end you get big flashy brands with really expensive, glossy, kind of, you know, surface finishes, and yet the actual goals of it doesn't really work that great and leaves you a bit frustrated.
Joe: And it's up to you as a marketeer to set those expectations.
Will: Yeah. What do you mean?
Joe: So, I mean, through your marketing communication, you set the expectations that the customers when they arrive either on store or on your website that your communication should have set those expectations. So, with Ryanair, you know what you're going to get as soon as you land. If you go into the Ivy for a meal in London, you've got a certain expectation of what this is going to be like. And there's always a gap. So there can be the gap where the brand don't know what the customer expects and this is what I alluded to earlier in terms of the breakdown from a content perspective, okay? So customers aren't really sure what they're going to get from a brand. And another gap you could have is not matching your customer experience performance to the promises that you've made in your communications, okay? So if your communications are X, Y, and Z across your content and you don't match those expectations from customers comm, that causes a problem.
Will: So, a really interesting point that it's not one I'd really planned talking about. But that's a very good point about that gap, that there's always a gap. And it's when you actually engage with the business that you get the product or you go to the place. It's always either better or worse. It's never exactly as you expect, is it? So you're right. It's a really, really valid point. The marketing and the experience and the product needs to be really, really integrated, I think, quite clearly and if any anything, under-promise, over-deliver, right?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That's my motto for clients as well, under-promise and over-deliver. And this comes into mapping out and putting a strategy around your customer experience design. And this comes from, and I'm not going to get too academic here, but this comes from research on academic writing on services marketing, like kind of pre-digital and how services were managed. And the four gaps are not knowing what customers expect. That's the key one. I mean, everything we do starts and ends with your customer. The second gap is not selecting the right service quality designs and standards. So you haven't said what the customer experience is. And, again, that's a huge gap you can potentially fall into.
The third one is not delivering your service… So you're not delivering what you said you're going to do. And the fourth one is not matching your performance to your promises that you've made in your marketing collateral. So all of those gaps. So, let's take an example if we go back to the artisan food producer, I'm not saying that they won't have time. Those small businesses have amount of time to be thinking about customer experience every day of the week, but for them, it's about maybe giving them a blueprint. So giving them a blueprint for CX where...and again, this speaks to kind of traditional services marketing where you map out a blueprint of all the touchpoints.
So from a hotel, I've got my website, maybe got a maybe a landing page that I've landed on. I've got my user experience within the website. And as we move on, we've got as I arrived at the hotel, is there somebody to meet me who takes my bags? All of these different touchpoints can be mapped out both on a digital and from a traditional perspective. And when you map them out, you can say, "Well, what's best-in-class? What are we trying to achieve at each of these touchpoints?" And some of the touchpoints will be customer-facing and some of them will be what's known as backstage, okay? Some of them will be behind the scenes where the customer doesn't even see it. But those a key tenet of CX processes, what are these processes? And how do they help us grow our business?
Will: So you're saying that a lot of the work of CX ends up kind of being invisible? Because it seems to me a bit like, you know, I can think of the analogy of like a cleaner, you only really notice their work when they missed a bit.
Joe: Your staff, your website processes, whether you have a chatbot, it has to just move smoothly so the customer doesn't see it. And it's a seamless experience. So you have to try and make your customer experience as seamless as possible.
Will: Yeah, it's true. When I'm sort of lecturing or talking to people about website experience, that user experience, I always tell people to go and read Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think." It's like one of the Bible's of web user experience, really. And the title sort of says it all. I mean, there's a bit more to it. It's a whole book. But the point is don't make people think, don't make people consider really what's happening. Let them just move through effortlessly. And, you know, in terms of web design, that's a lot about just stripping stuff back until just the essence of what the customer needs is left. And then that's probably about right. And then making sure what is there obviously is just absolutely fluid and seamless. And just like I said earlier, it doesn't get in the way. I think a lot of companies always have that temptation to get in the way, actually, of the customer just trying to get their stuff done, get their thing done, like whether it's booking a hotel room or buying a pair of shoes or what have you, right?
Joe: Yeah. Like, they're trying to put more stuff into customer and trying to get them to do a little bit more. And there's ways to do that. And again, that has to be tied in to your customer experience. If you're trying to upsell, if you're trying to cross-sell, there's ways to do that. So it isn't about just putting lots of stuff in a customer's way. And that's just going to cause a dissonance and that's just going to make them go elsewhere. And a key thing for me is about reviewing. It isn't just, "We've done CX, we put in a program, we have a blueprint, and we know our works, tick box, and away we go." Okay? It's about constantly reviewing this and saying, "Well, what's not working when they get to this landing page?"
So I had a client recently who did a really clever thing in terms of...their demographic of the customers is older. So what they did was they sent a letter, a physical letter to the customers with a QR code, okay? So the customers had a choice. What happened in reality was customers used the QR code, the website hits were huge, but the website wasn't in-tune with the rest of the customer's perception of the brand. The website didn't look like it was very salesy. The customer got confused and as a result, the campaign was a failure where it should have been, we have the website traffic, but it didn't lead them on the journey properly.
Will: Yeah, and that's a shame, isn't it? It's a real shame. I mean, we recently did a podcast episode about social media crises. And it's clear from that just like the example you've used there that, you know, a very poor customer experience digitally can actually start to create noise, really negative noise and buzz in social media. And that's kind of like the last thing we want. But as you say, people will be far quicker to pull us up as businesses than they are to praise us.
Joe: And there was research by Les Field and Peter Binet from The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute recently, which suggested that most organizations should be spending 60% on their marketing budget on brand building, on building their brand, okay? And 40% on short-term sales activations, because when you do that, that's the optimum, that 60/40 rule is the optimum. That's a very hard sell in organizations who don't have a marketing outlook or maybe don't see the value of spending on your brand.
Will: But I think in a modern sense, you know, that's a lot of content marketing, social media, a lot of that is brand, and we are spending more on that. You know, and it's just about, I think, the more finer details of persuading people that, you know, social media organically isn't about driving traffic, content marketing isn't about driving a sale today. I think you could argue that they have sort of brand activities in their own way.
Joe: They are. But what we've seen over the last number of years is we've seen a kind of a pivot back to brand. So we've seen a lot of newer companies get to a certain point and maybe plateau that they don't...so you get to a certain point and your sales plateau and you go, "Oh, my God. All we have is a logo. Now we need a brand that speaks, that people know what they're getting..." What you're trying to do with a brand and with CX is you're trying to build reliability, you're trying to build value, you're trying to build trustability. I mean, all business relationship is about trust, and having a good CX program. And as I say, it doesn't have to be a world-beating program but you have to have a blueprint that your customer understands and that you build trust, you build value, you build reliability, and you build relevance to them. And from that, you get your ROI.
Will: Sounds good. Thanks, Joe. That was very interesting. It's an interesting topic. So just tell our listeners where they can find you online?
Joe: So they can find me on LinkedIn. I'm Joe Wilde, and there's not that many of us in marketing out there, and also on www.macdigital.ie.
Will: Great. Thanks very much for your time. It was really insightful, and I really appreciate it, Joe. Cheers.
Joe: Thanks very much, Will. Chat to you soon.
Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com. Thanks for listening.