The inaugural International Customer Experience Awards is taking place this November 20 in the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam.

The gala event will reward the world’s most customer-centric businesses and organisations, that will be judged by an expert panel of key global CX industry figures.

Among these judges are the 2018 International Customer Experience Awards Ambassadors, each representing his or her country at what will be the planet’s biggest ever celebration of CX. In this ongoing series, CXM World is publishing exclusive interviews with – and opinion articles from – the Ambassadors, as the event draws near.

For more information on entering the awards, click here.

Ambassador: Mark Michelson

Country: USA

Occupation: Executive Director of CX Talks: The Customer Experience Summit

Hi Mark, tell us a little about your professional background, and what drew you towards the concept of Customer Experience

I have been creating customer experiences since I was a teenager, in the form of music events, an ad agency, and a market research firm I created directly out of college in 1984.

The research firm has done a lot of work in areas of store design, and we also have done work in product development and service design. We have worked with big companies such as Wall-Mart, IBM, and General Motors. We didn’t really call it Customer Experience back in the 80s or 90s, though.

Throughout my career, I have created several trade associations, one in particular related to customer service, which was called the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association, before they changed their name to the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association this year – their 20th anniversary.

I got involved with Mike Wittenstein about 10 years ago. We became friends and created a group on the web called the Idea International Design Experiences Association, which eventually gained  700-800 members.

That’s when CXPA was formed. Mike and I gave them our list and so I became more active with the local planning group for CXPA, and as part of that loose group of local people we planned some events as well as monthly meetings.

We would go to various businesses and see how they designed their experience. We would give workshops. I created my consultancy about a decade ago, and I’m still designing experiences every day.

Myself and Carlos Pimenta, CEO of Maquarium decided on the concept of CX Talks after seeing the success of Ted talks, and at our first event in Atlanta we attracted 400 attendees. We are planning future events across the States, and are very excited to be hosting them.

You’re a judge and Ambassador at the ICXAs – what themes do you hope to see in this year’s presentations?

I’m intrigued by disruptors who are doing something new and innovative.

Think of the famous disruptors like Amazon and Apple. Technology isn’t the only disruptor – customer centricity is where the focus is. Just because you can use tech to advance speed and things like that, it’s still the thinking behind it that says ‘we are making this a lot easier for customers and making it more enjoyable for them’.

Whatever that innovative disruption is – I tend to look for that.

What aspects of Customer Experience are popular among businesses/organisations in the US?

The big thing here is omnichannel, what we call the magic point of sale. I can shop for things in the real world or I can shop in my pocket.

I believe it’s happening around the world as well – technology is enabling this but its the creative use of ‘what are we doing for the customer?’ that matters.

Businesses  are figuring out how to use technology for what it is rather than relying on it to fill voids.

What areas of CX could be improved in your home country?

It has to do with the human interface. If you hire right, then you get good people. There are times when you need someone to be the front line, and not everyone will get the training they need. They might not be hired in right, as the position or job responsibility isn’t well defined, and with the pay rates as they are you can end up with people who are not necessarily caring at the front line.

If they aren’t caring, all the design in the world isn’t going to work. When we build new stores we try to create physical things that allow people to be human yet still fulfil that front-line role.

It used to be that when you go to buy a car, you would be approached by a sales person because it was their turn, and you would be brought into their office, with their certificates and trophies, with their nice comfy chair. You were placed in your less comfortable chair on the opposite side of the desk and were forced into a decision on the purchase.

That’s a confrontational set-up by design. We changed a lot of that back in the 90s and made it seem more open; for example, having a round table and letting the customer use the computer, so the whole thing doesn’t feel ‘secretive’ to them.

These kinds of things are built into the design of our facilities and products. A quote from Churchill I keep in kind is “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”.

Designing for successful Customer Experience is important and it allows the front line to take the stage and fill their role more enthusiastically.

Experience design can be thought of as theatre – you build a stage with props to create moments of joy. The stage has to be set in order for the actors (staff) to fulfil roles properly, and you have to do the right casting too!

Some companies do a great job with this in the US, but others are lacking.

What does the future hold in terms of CX? Can you offer any predictions, based on your experience, for the coming years?

I see a lot more AI. Technology is coming at us exponentially. Just last year we didn’t have the tools are have now. It’s still developing. It’s a new normal that as technology moves faster, we try and keep up.

I see more and more high-touch environments and activities, more engagement with the world.  When I was a kid we went and played in the woods, went climbing, and explored waterfalls and stuff. Nowadays you can buy a group package to do this stuff.

I think this points to what CX and experience design will look like in the future.

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