Customer experience: the superhighway to business excellence
Customer journey and customer experience: buzz words or booster for customer loyalty and growth? We asked Leslie Cottenjé, customer experience expert and General Manager of Codit Belgium.
People often confuse customer journey and customer experience, or use the terms indiscriminately. So, let's start at the beginning: a definition.
"A customer journey always starts from the customer and their needs," says Leslie Cottenjé, "never from the company. It's also never a linear process: the customer journey often begins long before the first contact with an organisation takes place. Because before they land on your website or walk into your business, people have often already been through a whole preliminary process, both online and offline. They read reviews, ask friends for advice, are inspired by social media, go shopping in the city, … Companies should be aware of this when they plan out that customer journey."
Of course, it's difficult to map out the trajectory that a customer follows outside your line of sight. You can, however, draw up a theoretical customer journey and visualise where and how customers may find their way to you. This way, you can provide the right next steps for every contact moment with a certain customer segment: a button to open a comparison table, a shortcut to the shopping cart or a pop-up dialog box with a discount code.
The fundamental principle for a successful customer journey remains that you are supporting your customer in realising their ambitions and desires. And not you selling your wares or showcasing your services.
When drawing up that theoretical customer journey, an organisation should therefore not have blinders on. It must thoroughly map out and manage the customer journey, not only the online version, but also the live one, as well as the interactions between the two
"Anyone who maps out a customer journey linearly and purely digitally, will soon find themselves adrift," warns Leslie Cottenjé. "Because then you won't be sufficiently taking into account the lateral jumps that customers make and the stage they are at in the decision-making process. For example, they may be informed visitors who want to compare benefits and prices. Or they may be new to the process and have yet to get to know and trust the company and its products.
Plus, anyone who thinks linearly when mapping this out is also going to create linear processes and that is bound to go wrong. For example, there was a retailer who had perfectly plotted out its online sales process. But customers could also return their purchases at the point of sale. Only, the staff was not aware of the agreements that were in place online and the storage space and cash register systems were not set up to handle those returns. The result: reputational damage, customer frustration and employee resentment."
A successful customer experience: only of concern to those who have contact with customers? Nothing could be further from the truth! It is something that digital strategists, webshop developers, store designers, warehouse staff and transporters ... in short, all employees in the company actively contribute to.
For Leslie Cottenjé, it's clear: customer experience is a fundamental part of Business Excellence. It's the result of all the actions an organisation takes in its pursuit of quality, efficiency and effectiveness. A strong customer experience is also always the result of the interplay between the three elements of the service profit chain: processes, people and products and services. According to this Harvard-documented value chain, there is a clear link between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction and productivity. And a good customer experience creates a win-win-win for all stakeholders.
Satisfied customers are loyal, and loyal customers ensure profit and growth within a company. But if you want satisfied customers, you also have to invest in your employees. And this is possible through a strong HR policy and process flows that enable employees to deliver services and products to customers smoothly and seamlessly.
Leslie Cottenjé: "A CX policy with concrete objectives can only succeed if the entire management team puts their shoulders to the wheel – from the CEO and the Chief Customer Officer to the HR manager. This is the only way a company can improve its processes, deliver value to customers and achieve operational and strategic excellence. Otherwise, CX will remain window dressing that's of no use to customers."
Organisations need to learn to listen more actively and proactively to their customers in order to achieve great customer experiences, says Leslie Cottenjé. As a starting entrepreneur, she was struck by how little companies knew about their customers or thought from their point of view. Together with like-minded business partners, she founded the company Hello Customer. They developed an algorithm that distils clear and measurable insights from the candid feedback from customers. In this way, companies can fundamentally improve their customer experience.
Leslie Cottenjé: "A Net Promoter Score or NPS provides too little input to properly work with. And questionnaires that a company draws up itself, already steer the respondents – albeit unconsciously – in the direction of certain answers. Or the questions probe into matters that are not really relevant to the customers. The real valuable information, we discovered, is in the open feedback people give: through these outside-in texts they tell us what they really think about the way the company supports them. With Hello Customer we can also harvest and analyse that feedback."
In collecting that feedback, privacy legislation and the GDPR are becoming an ever greater challenge. Hello Customer therefore deliberately puts up an impenetrable wall between the open feedback that the company collects and the data for marketing purposes.
Leslie Cottenjé: "It's important that people can trust a company when it asks them for feedback. When people know that you need their opinion to better serve them, they are more than happy to give it to you. Explicitly tell them that you are only requesting their data for that purpose and don't break that promise. Communicate the insights you have distilled from the survey, and immediately state which points for improvement you are going to tackle and how. The bond of trust you forge with your customer is invaluable for the customer experience."
"For that next-level customer experience, companies also need to learn to think in terms of ecosystems," says Leslie Cottenjé. "They need to dare to step beyond the traditional boundaries of their offering and work with partners who help them provide as conclusive an answer as possible to their customers."
She cites Dewaele as a prime example. This real estate group wanted to become the lifelong partner of its customers. She mapped out what their customers really need – from the moment they enter the real estate market until long after they're settled. Based on this, Dewaele expanded its range with insurance, investment and new construction advice, valuation, holiday rental, etc. To achieve this, they teamed up with partners who could provide this service and thus created the win-win-win for customers, partners and the real estate company itself.
Or think of how Sunweb expanded its travel offer with medical assistance while traveling. Together with AXA Partners, they perfected the Holiday Doctor feature in their app. This gives travellers 24/7 online access to a doctor based in their home country, who can provide reassurance or a referral. And Sunweb becomes a partner who relieves travellers of worries during their holiday.
Do you want to tailor new products or services to your customers? Then it's best to get to know them and their needs personally. In addition to conducting market research, you can also discover their needs if you look at them through the universally human lens.
Leslie Cottenjé: "People have three great universal needs: we want to feel safe, experience comfort and be unburdened. Apply this within the context of your company and the customer journey of your different customer segments, and you will surely find the moments in that customer journey when you can assist people as a partner. Then it will automatically become clear which processes you should fine-tune, where the potential bottlenecks or opportunities are, and which service or which product will contribute to an experience that will appeal to your customers."
Leslie Cottenjé: "Or take Argenta. They wanted to encourage young people to open a current account and manage their money. A workshop showed that this target group may be digital natives, but they are 'illiterate' when it comes to finances and investments. Offering them the opportunity to have a personal discussion about investments with an advisor at the right time in their customer journey gives these young people the security they're looking for."
Would you like to have a closer relationship with your customers and think about how you can (co-)create better customer experiences? Contact us. We provide modular assistance solutions for the health, travel and finance/insurance industries. In addition, AXA Partners is planning a panel debate with leading companies from these sectors, moderated by Leslie Cottenjé. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed on the insights from this debate.
About Leslie Cottenjé, General Manager of Codit Belgium
Leslie Cottenjé is an entrepreneur from Bruges with a background in linguistics and UX design. In 2015, she launched the Ghent tech scale-up Hello Customer together with several partners. With their AI platform, this Belgian growth company collects, centralises and analyses customer feedback for companies and converts it into actionable insights. Based on this knowledge, companies can refine their customer journeys and better tailor their customer experience to their target audience segments. With offices in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, they are the market leader in CX solutions for international B2C companies. Leslie Cottenjé ran the company as CEO and in 2018 her achievements were recognised with a nomination for Female CEO of the Year. Since September 2023, Leslie Cottenjé is the new General Manager of Codit Belgium, an IT consultant and -service provider supporting clients in their digital transformation.