Customer Experience is everywhere – involved in our lives on a daily basis.

More often than not, when you think of Customer Experience or customer service, you think of a person that was willing to help you and left you with a positive (or frustrating!) feeling. At its best, it can restore your faith in the human aspect of business.

In recent years, we’ve seen a wave of change in how businesses perceive CX. An incredible amount of work and dedication goes into providing customers with an experience rather than just a service, which can assure them they are not just a number to your company.                               

No matter the size of the company, organisation, or industry type, if you have customers, you have customer experience. How you approach it and evolve with it is your choice – one every organisation must make in order to keep its customers happy.

Customer Experience has come a long way; it’s an ever-growing movement around the world. Peers come together to learn from each other, exchange ideas, and get the support to thrive in their contribution to excellent customer service.

At Awards International, we bring people together so they can learn from each other, exchange new ideas, and get the support they need to thrive in the world of CX. We’re leading the way in celebrating and rewarding those who put their greatest efforts into creating exceptional experiences. In the UK, Netherlands, South East Europe, and the Middle East, we take pride in providing world-class awards experiences.

At the recent Gulf Customer Experience Awards, I had the pleasure of speaking with Emdad Choudhury (pictured above) about the importance of participating in awards programmes, balancing service efficiency and customer satisfaction, and the future of CX.

Emdad has over 15 years’ experience covering CX, servicing, organizational development and performance management at the highest level. A passionate leader and accomplished trainer, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience in delivering customer service and CX of the highest quality, including with American Express Middle East. 

Hello Emdad. Firstly, I’d like to express our gratitude for having you among our esteemed judges at the Gulf Customer Experience Awards. How was your judging experience?

I really enjoyed the experience as a judge. It was great to listen and learn from fellow judges as well as chairpersons. It was also a great networking experience which has added value to my career and provided some new additional insights into my CX perspective.

For businesses around the world, the importance of participating in awards programmes has risen. Which aspects of participating in such programmes are important for bringing what you learn back to the business?

I think every aspect is important, from presenting to just being present and networking. There is so much energy during these events that you naturally feel positive about leaving with a value added experience.

What is unique about such events – specifically these Gulf CX Awards – is the opportunity to learn about what is happening outside of your company and sector. Too often companies have a tendency to assume they already know what they are doing and continue to follow the same approach every year without really evolving.

By attending these programs, companies receive a ‘reality check’ but then identify an abundance of ideas that can help their organization grow. There is also something for the employees themselves in terms of personal development. The networking opportunities create an extra boost of motivation and aspiration when in the presence of such experienced and senior personnel who like to pass on career advice. For this alone it is worth participating.

Would you say it is starting a precedent of sorts for businesses in the Middle East region to have a new approach to awards programmes and Customer Experience?

I think you are correct in that it is starting a precedent for businesses here. The Middle East is a region where hospitality is part of the culture as a norm, more than any other region in the world.

Because of this culture, the level of CX that is expected is set at a very high standard. I feel, due to this hospitable necessity, that businesses want to be recognized as leaders in demonstrating CX and for playing their part in making the Middle East a CX hub, but have never had a recognized platform to promote their CX passion.

Winning at these award programmes, or just being present, gives businesses a sense of pride about showcasing what they are doing. These award programs also give businesses a ‘will-to-win’ mentality against their competition which in-turn will drive everyone to deliver a very high standard of CX year-on-year.

In the past few years, we’ve been witnessing real growth in the global significance of Customer Experience, meaning businesses take more action to improve their relationship with customers. In terms of CX expansion, what are your thoughts on balancing service efficiency and customer satisfaction?

I feel given the financial pressures of businesses striving to survive in today’s climate, many firms are still trying to ‘get it right’ in delivering the right balance of service efficiency and customer satisfaction and very few actually do it right.

There are many areas which can define how well a business can balance service efficiency and customer satisfaction. One area of late is digital. One of the challenges facing businesses today is the speed and rate of digital that is being pushed to the forefront of almost every business.

Ultimately, the quality of your digital service will depend on the ‘time’ that has gone into creating and maintaining the new service. Far too often businesses tend to rush joining the digital bandwagon to avoid ‘falling-behind’, and this lack of patience in testing and build quality has cost the user experience whilst also reducing service efficiency.

Today, apps and services are compared with one another within seconds – you very rarely get a second chance to retain the user of your new digital service, which is why your roll-out strategy has to be executed with a solid plan. This includes a solid strategy that manages any problems beyond launch, through back-office process efficiency and excellent complaint management procedures.

The second key area is investment. With today’s economic environment and challenges that businesses and consumers are facing, businesses are more astute with their investments.

This is a standard practice but it should not come at the expense to invest in enhancing the service quality because this will ultimately drive customer satisfaction and service efficiency. Yes, it is important for businesses to manage costs, but there are often cases where there is a lack of investment in employees which leads to a negative service experience and CSAT score. Continuous training and development of employees, as well as providing the relevant ‘technological tools’ for the job and empowerment towards customers, are the key ingredients for maintaining excellent service efficiency and even better customer satisfaction.

What did you learn about Customer Experience at the Awards?

I learned many things at the event, but maybe the one thing which stood out was realizing that the shared passion and belief that CX is growing and critical to businesses is real. Coming into the awards I didn’t know what to expect, but the natural bond and passion amongst CX ambassadors was fantastic.

I felt reassured about my understanding of CX and how we are on a collective journey, and believe that we are important to influencing the way businesses understand and apply CX on a global level.

The intersection of Employee Experience and Customer Experience is crucial for any business that strives to have great customer satisfaction as an outcome. Do you think we value employee’s voices enough to ensure that customer issues are resolved?

If you had asked me two years ago I would have said no.

I think more recently there has slowly been a shift in the mindset to take onboard the voice of the employee just as much as the voice of the customer – albeit there is still a long way to go. I am a huge fan of driving organizational alignment, collective collaboration, and synergy, because without these you risk staying rooted whilst your competitors move forward.

The employees are the forefront of the business and they are the face of the business in the eyes of the customer. Your employees will always bring ‘organic facts’ about how your customers feel and this is probably the most cost-effective survey you can do that can produce some of the best results!

We have to remember CX is about ’emotion’ and the way in which we trigger a positive emotional feeling from the customer during with their interaction with the company.

This is best delivered by people.

You will never get a better CX feeling than through dealing with a person who has helped you because of the emotional connection during that interaction. This is where CX was born. With all the technology and new services today, many companies perceive and generalise this as CX, but to be honest all of these are contributors  delivering upon customer ‘expectation’ first, and then leading on to creating ‘that experience’.

As someone who has been in this industry for a long time, how does it feel to see CX become a truly global movement?

The feeling is great!

For all ambassadors of CX, this is something which we have longed for. CX has been around for many years disguised within ‘Customer Services’ – the difference being that only those who believed in the importance and meaning of delivering a great experience brought CX to life out of choice.

Today CX is no longer a choice but a necessity for all businesses. What is known today as ‘customer service’ will soon phase-out and will be universally known as CX. The global movement is only getting started.

There is a long way to go for businesses and different sectors to really understand what great CX looks and feels like. As I mentioned earlier, CX is the experience, it’s the feeling.

Designing an app that is ‘really cool’ and full features is not CX, because today, this app/service is great but tomorrow the same app/service becomes a standard customer ‘expectation’ against what others are already delivering. We are in a great period of time in which the buzz of CX is growing and this will remain because many are learning and striving to strike that balance of managing customer expectations whilst achieving great Customer Experience.

There is a discussion taking place on how culture intertwines with Customer Experience. How much does CX need to change in different cultural contexts?

I touched on before how hospitality is the culture in the Middle East and this is why there is so much emphasis on CX. However, CX does not necessarily need to change but there should be room for being able to adapt.

CX can be likened to values of how you treat one another. Applying the core values of CX pretty much remain the same wherever you go – it’s a concept that works in every sector. Cultural awareness is important and it is equally important to adapt to the society of where you are delivering your CX, but at the end of the day everyone is looking to be left with that ‘feeling’ and memorable experience from dealing with you because that is what customers will go and tell their friends, much like if you were to meet random nice person in the street who compliments you or wishes you a good day – you can guarantee that you will feel really good and tell everyone about it!

What do you think will be the biggest issue in CX in 2020?

One of the great things about CX is the human nature and interaction that creates a memorable and positive experience.

I think the biggest issue in CX in 2020 will be the amount of focus on digital. CX will continue to grow in 2020 but I feel that the people essence of CX will get overshadowed by the focus of ‘CX technology’. We are already seeing this with more and more self-service technology and the impact that is having on CX.

I have seen far too many scenarios whereby large companies go live with great technology but customers are still left very frustrated by the lack of human support which in turn kills the experience. I had a recent experience of spending almost an hour going through every option on an IVR system to reach a human but to no avail. When I looked through the website, I got nowhere. Add to that the Whatsapp bot service which was just that – a bot.

Eventually I had to visit a store and my issue was resolved within 20 minutes. By no means am I against technology, but I cannot stress enough the importance of people when it comes to CX.  I do however think we will slowly start to move into a different nature of CX, which is something we have known for a long-time and have to adapt towards and accept.

Where do you see CX ten years from now?

I honestly believe we will be seeing new technology in many ways that today may seem scary but will actually really focus on customer needs and convenience.

Just one example I predict will be a large focus on the use of holograms to help customers with support and guidance. There has been a shift in the world from niceties to necessities due to consumers being more financially savvy. Holograms will be used to help provide instant support on the spot because of what they are capable of and the value of being shown how to do something without visiting a shop or making a long phone call.

We are soon to see the successful introduction of driverless cars which will again looks at convenience. The speed with which technology is evolving and advancing is hard to keep up with. I firmly believe CX will enter a new level of realism.

With the AI of bots evolving on a daily basis, it’s only a matter of time before we receive that technical assistance from a hologram at the push of a button from our phones. It won’t be too long before those driverless cars collect your shipments or delivers your shopping or even to the hospital relieving the stress from the ambulance services. I’ll leave it at that and won’t scare you anymore!

What does winning an award mean to you? The recognition of your hard work should be a priority to you and your peers. Not just as motivation and celebration, but as a step forward to improving CX culture globally!

Awards International is doing just that – supporting and helping you celebrate CX professionals across the globe. We look forward to the day when organisations no longer debate the significance of Customer Experience, but rather think about how best to maximise it.

Don’t miss your opportunity to become a part of the CX revolution.

The International Customer Experience Awards

The Gulf Customer Experience Awards

The South East Europe Customer Experience Awards

The UK Customer Experience Awards