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Tap into automation for a better customer experience

Mark Reinke, former Chief Customer Experience Officer, Suncorp Group, shares insights on how businesses can navigate the complexities of automation for a better customer experience.

I spoke with Mark Reinke, experienced marketing executive and former Chief Customer Experience Officer of Suncorp Group, about strategies for unlocking business success in markets defined by digitisation, heightened competition and changing customer demands.

Businesses of all sizes are facing a tidal wave of challenges when it comes to CX. What changes and strategies are forward-thinking companies doing to keep their customers happy while also growing their business?

The best companies that I see, across categories, tend to focus on elements of the business model, building capabilities, lifting customer experience and new ways of working.

Forward-thinking customers are quickly evolving from traditional value chain business models to ones that allow easy API connectivity to other partners to deliver new value for customers.

These companies are ‘ecosystem ready’ and will increasingly be able to connect and deliver innovative new solutions at a lower cost and faster speed to market. They are also building new capabilities in the domains of cloud, artificial intelligence, blockchain, biometrics and data that are creating new experiences through convergence of these areas.

They are completely reimagining customer journeys, aligning teams full-time to the journeys and measuring and driving NPS and profitability at a journey level, not just a product level. They are also increasing their speed of experimentation, adopting agile methodologies, equipping leaders to navigate rapid change, and investing in understanding and improving staff journeys.

Customers are now demanding a more experience-orientated value exchange, compared with a simple product exchange. In what ways is the introduction of new technologies helping businesses leverage the ‘experience’ aspect of modern-day transactions?

We have seen the rapid evolution of products into services, and services into experiences. There are several strategies that are enabling this. Data wrapping is the most prevalent. This is wrapping a layer of data services around a traditional product.

You see this everywhere from connected water valves that measure water flow, usage and leakage, to bank apps that don’t just facilitate transactional purchases, but also predict future spending and savings behaviour. What is notable here is that these experiences deliver real utility for customers.

With most people overwhelmed by complexity and choice in many purchase decisions, smart organisations are helping their customers make the best possible choices for their individual circumstances.

This is best seen in retail, which is on the cusp of a new generation of digitally enabled experiences, combining geo-location services guiding customers to physical locations with the right products and price offers, biometric recognition to customise in-store experience, and VR- and AR-enabled experiences to trial the products virtually before purchase.

From a customer experience standpoint, how do you see AI enhancing CX, and from an employee point of view, what are AI’s implications for employee engagement?

This question is likely to be one of the pivotal ones of our generation. It is very likely that by 2025, most customer interactions will take place without human intervention because of cognitive computing and AI.

Customer identification, retrieval of customer records, problem diagnosis and analysing behavioural patterns can all be performed by intelligent agents.

This will deliver benefits to customers in terms of reducing response times, providing contextually relevant and personalised recommendations and integrating sentiment analysis into responses. It will also deliver cost benefits to companies, which can be reinvested in the development of new solutions and businesses.

Automation of monotonous, repetitive or even dangerous tasks should allow employees to be freed up to work on more complex and impactful parts of the customer experience, which will be positive for employee engagement. Businesses also require creativity and judgement to sustain and grow, and this will be the domain of people, as will choosing the problems for AI to solve and teaching it to solve them.

Digital transformation is front and centre for businesses now. How can businesses succeed at a wide-ranging digital transformation?

I have been fortunate over recent years to be part of a global network of organisations brought together by MIT (Boston) that studies and shares best practice on the digital transformation of businesses. It has highlighted a number of traits that underpin successful transformations, such as those underway in DBS, BBVA and Ping An.

The first is clarity of the business model, and how the company will compete. For example, will it continue as a traditional value chain business, providing its products to others, transform into a modular one allowing it to plug and play with other organisations, or become a platform that is the destination for a defined set of customer needs. Clarity here provides great insight into where and how to invest in digital transformation.

The second differentiator is not surprisingly leadership and culture. A CEO and executive team with a clear vision and a consistent and unyielding commitment to delivery often in the face of external pressures is key.

These companies create new metrics to evidence their progress and the new value they are creating for customers. They reuse core systems, adopt agile work practices and invest in the capability of their leaders through ongoing and difficult change.

Finally, they are clear on what customer problems they are setting out to solve. For companies like Ping An and DBS, it has meant the development of completely new customer ecosystems in areas such as energy and health care.

In each case, they are clear on the customer problem and have built their business to connect internal services with external partner services to deliver new value for customers.

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