We intuitively know that customer experience is what keeps clients truly engaged. This is particularly important in the current climate; in a time of rapid change, the way businesses create and nurture an emotional connection with their customers is more crucial than ever.

It’s unfortunate then that results from recent ‘Board Effectiveness’ research, issued jointly by the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) and Deloitte, indicated many Australian businesses in all sectors are reacting slowly to disruptive change. The report, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, also showed that those adapting their models are generally doing so out of a competitor response – because someone has already beaten them to it.

This disconnect between what customers are seeking and what businesses are providing stems from the board and upper management, the paper showed, noting that “the businesses most profoundly disrupted are those that know the least about their customers, while the ones succeeding are the ones building their knowledge of their customers, deriving insights from their markets, and improving their marketing effectiveness and audience engagement through a continuous data feedback loop”.

Put simply: embrace the customers’ needs or be disrupted by them. To understand this disconnect we should first look at how customer expectations have risen significantly in the past two years. The Temkin Group’s 2016 Customer Experience Rating study showed a severe decline in customer experience, with the percentage of ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ companies dropping from 35% in 2015 to just 18% in 2016. In our increasingly immediate, personalised and connected world, customer expectations are rising faster than most companies can keep up.

Knowing that customers now expect every interaction they have with a company to be the best experience they can have, delivering superior customer experience is paramount. But, as we know, in order to deliver this, we first need to understand our customers – and a lot of boards don’t.

This is caused by a number of factors: a lack of diversity or adequate representation of the ‘real’ customer in the boardroom; an absence of the CMO on the board; and most crucially, a distance from the actual customer experience – the board is often significantly removed due to both status and location.

The distance between top-level decision makers and the customer experience they are accountable for is the issue itself. You can’t have a conversation about ‘the numbers’ without understanding how they connect to the customer, and the conversation you’re having with those customers through your business.

We know customers become loyal because they are emotionally attached – a business that optimises for an emotional connection outperforms competitors by 85 per cent in sales growth. So while the ‘experience’ and ‘numbers’ conversations might seem disparate, they both need to happen at a board level.

Beyond the knowledge that understanding our customer leads to results, the disconnect between the board and customers can only be filled by taking significant steps to bring the board into the customer experience.


How to create a better experience

Develop programs

Develop a program that has your teams (including your board) spend time with the key customers. Connecting with them in a physical setting and shadowing them as they experience your business highlights the small details that are lost in Big Data. It also helps the business to better understand the consumer.

Think about marketing

Having someone on the board who has in-depth customer interest and a picture of how the business is perceived in the ‘real world’ is crucial to filling the knowledge gaps, particularly if this person is (and they should be) prepared to educate the rest of the board.

Ensure there is diversity

Including people on the board who represent the ‘real’ person you’re trying to connect with provides a greater understanding of your customers’ needs.

Review your data in-depth

There is a variety of data points that boards should refer to in order to ensure their business is creating a powerful customer experience and the obvious ones are sales and net promoter score (NPS). Other recommendations include: repeat purchase numbers; marketing programs that offer a referral incentive; brand-tracking studies to monitor likeability; and closeness scores.

In an era of major disruption and when good isn’t ‘good enough’, boards have the opportunity to be pivotal in prioritising and driving customer experience, and creating a powerful brand. As Deloitte partner and CMO David Redhill commented in 2016: “Boards need to respond to the increasing power of the connected customer and focus their business strategy and operations on the customer’s needs.”