The ICS Annual Conference: My Thoughts

The Institute of Customer Service Annual Conference on March 3rd 2015 was inspiring for its depth of board level insight against a precarious position of the lowest customer satisfaction levels reported since 2010.

At Teleperformance we support over half of the companies listed in Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands 2014” and we know how crucial great customer experience is to businesses growth. It was with disappointment then that delegates considered the opening remarks from Jo Causon, CEO of ICS, which highlighted the drop off in customer satisfaction reported in the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index. At the same time the Index also cited the impact of high levels of customer satisfaction on leading brands – and it’s no surprise happy customers shop more and stay longer with brands that provide a consistent, quality experience across all touch points. This correlates with our own survey of 69,000 people which revealed the percentage of happy and loyal customers exponentially increases after a positive experience, indicating on average a 33 percentage points improvement was possible in the overall perception of a brand.

Highlights from the day included a fearlessly open and insightful presentation from Simon Roberts, MD, Health and Beauty UK and ROI, Boots UK. For Boots the aim is to “form a personalised relationship with customers in a world that is becoming increasingly impersonal”. To a business that’s 160 years old, customer life-time value means exactly that, a life-long relationship across a generation with customers. But to truly enable that in a business takes a significant change in leadership mind-set, where every board meeting doesn’t begin with a data pack but begins instead with a review of what customers are “seeing, feeling, thinking and noticing” about their business. Most interesting was Simon’s statement that “we all know the saying – what can be measured can be managed, but with customer experience, what really matters can’t be measured.” Companies have to first earn customers’ trust, today and tomorrow, then work out how to monetize it.

Rita Clifton, Chairman of BrandCap and formerly of Interbrand was rifle-shot on the challenges facing businesses today to satisfy and delight customers. As a multichannel customer experience business we resonate with her statement that “every touch matters” and that brands need to be strong in vision, mission and values (in that order) to withstand the changes wrought by the smart device empowered consumer. The challenge from Rita to senior and board level teams was to find “clarity, coherence and leadership” as a business and brand to survive and thrive.

James Henry Bagley, Marketing Director from Naked Wines, made us an offer I’m sure most delegates won’t refuse and probably left many a little sanguine about their current employment/employer – 10 days on a bus drinking wine with the producers sounds more like an excellent gap year than an Outlook calendar item! But on the serious side he made several key statements on the role of the customer in a modern business, referred to as Angels at Naked Wines. He impressed with several examples where Angels had helped form and develop strategy and had been directly involved in the success of the business. Notably, at Naked Wines this is reciprocated by the employees who have even established a specific approach to meeting customer’s needs – Project Giraffe. So named as it literally comes from the idea of ‘sticking your neck out’, it includes everyone, including management and board doing whatever is necessary to provide – not customer service, not customer care, but customer happiness. Over the Christmas period in 2014 that meant everything from picking and packing to physically delivering the orders themselves, right up to Christmas Eve.

No one at the Park Lane Hilton envied Paul Loft, MD of Homebase, following that and yet he pulled it off, a great presentation that again identified that truly great customer experiences need both energised and engaged employees as well as customers to succeed. The changes he is co-ordinating at Homebase are both sweeping in their scope as they are in their vision: “At the heart of Homebase is your home – that’s a hugely emotional part of our customers’ life”. Paul articulated how the difficulty for many established businesses in moving the customer experience forward was that they have seen more of the past than they have of the near past or spent time contemplating the future. By seeking collaborative working with other retailers, even competitors, the change can be made, from simply shelf-stacking and selling paint to inspiring customers in the first place.

Host for the day Jonathan Edwards CBE, World Record Holder triple jumper, had a rethink about the insurance premium he charges for his services when Fred Sirieix, General Manager of Galvin at Windows literally put him in a miniature boxing ring on stage, with boxing gloves and protective headgear (“I am going to hit you”) to illustrate how great customer service is all about winning. Specifically Fred wanted to press home the need to focus, to adopt the right stance, to stay fit, to understand the competition and know the outcome you are going to achieve and have the plan to achieve it in order to truly deliver customer satisfaction: “losers have goals, winners have systems.”

It was interesting how our business and our client programmes around the world relate so much to what was discussed at the conference. Multichannel customer experience is our core focus. We are constantly considering the customer in everything we do – in our vision for clients, our vision for technology, our vision for our own people and of course – our vision for customers themselves. As speaker Professor Prabhu Guptara pointed out, the world has entered a new and disruptive era of consumer/customer/company interrelationships, but helping customers achieve their outcomes, however they wish to interact with their preferred brands will remain key to customer experience and satisfaction. And I can be sure we will be playing our part in 2015 to reverse the trend for next year’s UK Customer Service Index!

Were you at the event? Leave a comment with your own thoughts or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Customer Satisfaction
Photo by Agaumont licensed under Creative Commons.

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