A Customer Experience Pipe Dream...

2016-04-04| Neil Sharp

Last week I co-chaired the European Insight Exchange, run by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) (http://www.cxpa.org/) with fellow customer experience specialist, Ian Golding.

It was a great event in terms of content and networking opportunities and was very well run by the CXPA. There were just under 100 people there from all over the world and from just about every sector you can imagine from Gas Pipe Management to Wealth Management. It was so great to see such vibrancy and enthusiasm for a profession which I believe has really come of age.

The CXPA now has over 4000 members in 70 countries which is no small achievement for a non-profit association that is just 4 years old and which has a full time staff of just 2 people. The organisation relies on volunteers in each location to run local networking events and to generally spread the word and act as ambassadors for the profession. If you work in customer experience and want to get involved I recommend it. I have hosted 2 local events in the past 18 months, in addition to chairing the session last week and it is both rewarding and motivating.

A key takeaway from the event for me was that ultimately, every business in the world has been delivering a customer experience since the beginning of commerce itself – it is only in recent years that organisations have become conscious of that fact. We now live in a world of increasingly demanding customer and shareholder expectations; increasing competition and continuous market disruption (economic and technological) and in my travels, more and more of my clients tell me that it is now VERY difficult for any company to differentiate on its products and services alone.

The other thing that struck me was that real gems of best practice can be found in unexpected places. Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Networks, the North of England’s gas distributor, gave a talk which was inspiring and fascinating in equal measure. Mark took over as CEO in 2011 and was immediately confronted with a series of issues. An employee engagement survey found that their people felt little loyalty or sense of belonging to the firm. At the same time, a customer satisfaction survey by Ofgem, the regulators of electricity and gas markets in Great Britain, NGN scored last among eight gas distribution network operators.

Mark’s goal was to revolutionise NGN’s business model and capture colleagues’ mental attention and passion to serve, placing the customer at the heart of the business.

Today NGN prides itself of delivering customer experience to rival any business in any industry. Putting customers first is a philosophy shared right across the company, from the engineers repairing or replacing gas mains in the street to call handlers in the office. The company has won a staggering 12 national customer and employee engagement awards, judged against ALL industry sectors.

These guys put gas pipes in the ground and manage the distribution of a commodity. This is not on the surface a glamorous or fun business which would benefit from a customer centric approach. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Mark talked about how much fun and passion now exists in the business. The stories Mark told about the impact that managing the customer experience and connecting your people to a clear purpose has had on staff, customers and on results were captivating. This was beautifully illustrated by the responses of NGN people to recent events such as the dreadful flooding that the North of England have suffered. Stories of people spontaneously going the extra mile to serve the community and restore lives back to normal, even when the areas impacted were not directly served by NGN.

Staff retention has improved, the average age of the team has fallen which in turn brings in new talent and new passion and energy for driving results and brings forward new ideas and fresh thinking. Mark clearly loves his company, his people and his job.

Any CEO or senior exec that has any doubt about the transformative power of managing customer experience through connecting your people to what you are in business to do - and then enabling them to get on with it, go seek Mark out and listen to his experience and wisdom. You won’t regret it.