Being a judge at the 2018 International Customer Experience Awards in Amsterdam, I had a chance to watch the trends in the world of CX and see what challenges face companies that are working on their relationship with customers.

I was amazed to see the difference between ‘mature’ CX economies and those which are just starting their journey towards customer happiness.

I would like to share several observations on these differences.

I personally come from a background that is only starting to realise that a customer is not something you can take for granted after he or she opens your door and calls you by your name. That marketing mantra became obsolete with the evolution of technology and growth of competition.

It takes two clicks for the customer to find an alternative solution – whether it’s a shop, a restaurant, or a supplier of industrial gasifiers! Still, many companies in Russia don’t understand the full value of their customer base and concentrate their efforts on attracting new customers.

We have to find new customers

A lot of Russian businesses now find themselves in an awkward situation when current customers are expecting more, and the business starts losing them to competition. Moreover, it’s getting harder and more expensive to attract new customers.

The solution? Invest more in marketing! Master new high-tech digital marketing technologies! Rebrand! Promise more! Sell aggressively!

No wonder this way brings more disappointment than profits.

We have to give a discount

Another solution that is highly popular among many Russian companies is discounting. We have customers, so why not use them?

Let’s send an SMS to our customer base and offer unprecedented discounts! Let’s e-mail and keep calling them until they complain.

Some firms say: “We are discounting and they get less and less loyal, response rates are falling”. Eroding margins and declining loyalty are the outcomes of this customer-toxic communication.

Please fix it now

What comes next is the realisation that we do have to work with the existing customer base and make those people happy, willing to come again and recommend to others. That is the position we find some of our clients we work with in Russia. We frequently hear from company leaders words like: “How can I force my employees to love those customers and make them happy?”

The answer is – please teach them to behave properly with customers.

We need to work on our relationship

That’s the stage that comes after the leader discovers he or she can’t force the change. And that’s where the real work begins. Some projects we run now in Russia are starting from here.

The companies have realised the need to build relationships; the management sees the importance and is ready to allocate time and resources to build customer loyalty. What’s next?

Let’s start trying

This is the stage where most of the companies in Russia are now. Some are trying to measure satisfaction, some measure loyalty. Some are investing in service training, some are purchasing better technological solutions for contact centres. There are a lot of chaotic movements and “let’s try and see” attitudes, often with an expectation of immediate results. There is also a lot of disappointment and depreciation…

“We have tried it all last year. It does not work.”

Clear strategy

What struck me at the finals of the International Customer Experience Awards is that every case I have seen was an example of a well-executed strategy – aligned with company goals, clear with priorities, focused, and measurable.

This will be the next step for many companies in Russia and in other “young” CX economies – the challenge is to build the system of managing customer relationships. 

While some of the “mature” companies told us at the Awards that they have passed the period of being obsessed with numbers and measurements and have come to a simpler and more actionable model, here we see the urge to measure whenever possible – sometimes forgetting that the numbers are just the tool to make the right action.

The winners and runners-up at the Awards have a deep understanding that cultural change take years, and also have realistic targets.

Meanwhile, the ” younger” (in terms of their CX skills) companies hope for fast solutions and magic pills – some secret knowledge that will make them winners overnight.

It’s a tough job to explain that Santa Claus does not really exist…

A lot of cases at the International Customer Experience Awards demonstrated the importance of employee involvement – the change can happen only if every employee, all departments, and regional offices, understand their role in building Customer Experience.

Sadly, there are still companies out there who say: “We have a customer service department to take care of the customers, we have other things to do.”

It was fantastic to see how the CX mindset is evolving in the companies which presented at the finals – it was like a trip to the future, a chance to see what will be presented and discussed in Russia in five or 10 years from now.

We have a long way to go, but it is very reassuring to know we are going in the right direction.