Customer Experience Stategy - Interview with Linda Sessa

Hear from Welcome, Linda Sessa, Customer Experience Head of Vodafone Group, speaking at the Customer Experience Exchange Europe about customer experience strategy, about Vodafone Customer Experience journey and much more!

Welcome, Linda Sessa, Customer Experience Head of Vodafone Group, to the Customer Experience Exchange. Firstly, can I start by asking you a little bit about the session that you facilitated where you discussed making your customer experience strategy stick? You touched upon where organisations are now and where they want to be. Can you give me a little bit of an insight about the Vodafone Customer Experience journey?

I think that you got it right - it is a journey, so we are still on the way of delivering what we are naming a customer experience that fits to our brand. And I think that some of the main reasons that I raised and that I pointed out in my presentation were what we found out in that journey, what worked for us, and what didn't work. Because I think that for each and every company there is a mix that fits to the situation, to the heritage that that company brings in, and how you actually weave in your ride and your journey is what makes the difference at the end.

So what were the challenges that you faced in your journey?

The challenges we had: We are a company of 22 markets. Some of these markets were brought in by merger and acquisitions, so some of these markets have different culture in the background. And what we are trying now to weave in into everybody is the same brand promise, the same brand approach, and, basically, delivering the service that is consistent across the markets to our customers. So there is a challenge already in terms of the maturity of the markets, but also in different cultures and whatever the customers in those specific cultures bring with themselves, and what are the expectations and the trends that they are going towards?

What did you do to combat this, because that's a massive challenge, obviously?

And I think it is still a challenge, and I think just having a discipline to constantly go towards it. What we did, basically, we started with a brand because brand is something that we have in common across all of our 22 markets. And then talking about the brand promise and brand purpose and seeing in what way this gets translated into the behaviours that the company shows at each and every interaction with the customers is what makes it different than the other competitors in the markets that we have. So it's, basically, translating the brand promise into the behaviours, and then being quite adamant about influencing those behaviours into the companies locally.

So what changes did you have to make to your strategy to get to where you are now from those early days of recognising the power of the customer?

If you are talking about a big corporation like Vodafone which has 22 markets all across the world globally, it's basically defining what that actually means so that everybody has a joint understanding of where we need to go. So what we spent most of our time doing in the past year is defining what would be a minimum standard for Vodafone when it comes to customer experience. So what would be the baseline that we all agree upon from which we then move onwards?

And so that's almost like aligning your message throughout all of the different regions?

Exactly, and what does it mean for the customer, and what does it not mean for the customer? And you can always tweak it locally, but you have to have that baseline which is your guidance in terms of where you want to go and what is your reference point every time you need to check whether or not you're on the right track.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently now, knowing what you know?

I don't think that there would be anything done differently because I think it has been quite an interesting journey. What I would do more of is to talk with different functions because I think that one of the major roles a customer experience person in a company needs to do is show the rest of the company that this is not something that contradicts what other functions are doing, but this is something that complements what other functions are doing. So more lobbying, more discussing, more talking, in terms of what's in it for the function, what's in it for the company, and how do we address the customer in a better way as an entity?

What are the three key areas you believe need developing from where you are now to where you want to be, and what plans do you have in place to tackle these challenges?

There are, I would say, three main areas that we concentrate on and I would say that they are at different levels of maturity. One of the areas is this branded customer experience. As I said, we started with the brand; we wanted that brand to live in each and every of our markets, specifically for the customers in that market. So branded customer experience, minimum standards, the journeys, how do we go about mapping what it is today, finding where the gaps lie, fixing those gaps and then moving on is one area that we are still concentrating on.

The second one would be around products and service excellence because we are a company that provides the products for our customers, so we also think that there are areas of improvement that we can address there. And I think that the major point and the major task in that is how do we introduce the customer-centred design into everything that we do, because the product actually ends in the customer's hands at the end of the time?

And I think that the third big part is being really, really adamant about how do we use insights, how do we use customer feedback, and how do we try to weave that back into the organisation, how do we close the loop, how do we actually listen constantly to what our customers are saying?

So these are the three bits that we are still working on. They are at different levels of maturity, depending on the local markets, or depending on where we are actually doing any of the three.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges organisations are facing when designing their customer experience strategies?

I think that the biggest challenge overall is not specific to Vodafone. I think that you can define a good customer experience strategy, but then the biggest problem is how you go and implement it, and how do you keep at it? Because the fact remains that the employees are also people, so in the same way that somebody says the customers are fickle, you have the people that have done certain things for a long period of time that now need to go to the transformation and change.

And it's in human nature that the change doesn't come easy. So I think that the similar challenges that we have with our customers in terms of how we can offer them better customer experience, and how they can recognise that better customer experience, becomes the same challenge internally, how do employees start recognising that what we are doing is something that needs to be done, and how do they keep at it? So I would say, basically, the people are the biggest challenge.

So how is Vodafone going about getting that employee engagement, getting that buy-in from all levels of the hierarchy, as well as the customer-facing ones? How have you guys gone about tackling that issue?

It's manifold, I would say, but the good thing about Vodafone is that is a live [?] thing that exists today in Vodafone, so there is a willingness to change. And, usually from the senior level management, is a constant talk about customer experience and putting the customer at the centre of all the things. When it comes to the larger areas of organisation is trying to put people in the customer's shoes, so one of the things that we do have is we don't get our phones given by our internal company.

We actually go into the shop and buy our own phones so that you can experience the whole journey that the customer goes through. When it comes to the levels of the frontline staff, we try to address this with the team leaders, and to try to explain why we are doing it, so what is going to be different from tomorrow? So there is massive effort, also, internally in the organisation to try to address that topic in any way that we see fits to the situation that we find ourselves in. But it's quite a constant progress in terms of how do we address that change.

If you could give customer experience leaders three pieces of advice on future-proofing their strategies, what would they be?

I would say: Start with the brand. See what, externally, you are saying to customers, and what you need to do to deliver on that promise that you are making. Try to understand where your organisation is today and now, so what internal challenges are going to be in order to deploy the strategy that you have. And then the third thing is: Just be really, reallyã?¦ have a great stamina and stick to it because the customer experience is a long-term process; it's not something that can be sorted out in a month or two months, or even in a short-term project.

That's something that's coming across - the longevity of these projects. It's not something that you can just put aside for a month or two, but that's great. And what would you say are the three key steps to delivering those challenges that you've just mentioned?

Talk to the people, talk across function, learn about what brand needs to deliver. So I think that it's understanding of each and every effort of the function is very important because then you can start looking for the common denominators that will help you in the delivering of that strategy. Because if the people internally don't talk, so if you're not trying to break the silos and trying to impose a horizontal value chain that actually delivers the customer experience, then you are set to fail because, otherwise, it's not going to work by mandating or by forcing it on. It has to be an internal commitment of everybody involved, and their understanding that it needs to happen, and then the thing becomes easier.

What can the supply community do to help retailers deliver on their customer experience objectives?

I think it goes, also, to understanding what the retailers' challenges are, and then to try to address the result or try to address the result by understanding the root cause. Because if it's just a binary one-on-one discussion in terms of I have a product, will you buy it, I think that most of the sales are not going to be successful. So the suppliers need to, basically, get close to their customers, in this case retailers, and understand where their challenges actually lie in order to be able to position their services in the best way possible.

And how have you been able to use technology to really support your customer experience strategy from the conception to the delivery of it?

I think we are, right now, on the path of identifying where technology can help and where we need to address the technology so that we can have a much easier way forward. Because if I look way back, the silos of the company bring into the technology, and at one point, the technology becomes the hurdle, not somebody that enables you to go forward. So I think that this is right now with most of the companies and most of the industries, how do you re-think what the technology can do for you, but it has to be driven by the business need.

So what would be your ideal piece of technology, like, what are you looking for to reallyã?¦?

And I think there is an answer, there is not one, so you need to be clear on what you are set out to do, what your customer experience mean, and then you need to go and find, among other technologies, what would be the best fit for you to deliver what you have set out to do. And it's not a silver bullet kind of answer.

So, finally, if you had one piece of advice for a customer experience practitioner who is looking to design their strategy and hasn't picked up a pen, hasn't done the research, what would be your first thing to say before you do anything, do this, to really think about your strategy and this will underpin everything you're doing?

First, understand your customers; really, really understand your customers. And, second of all, understand your organisation, and I'm not talking about competitors here, on purpose, because understanding the customer and understanding the organisation will give you, already, the answers to what you need to do so that your brand gets positioned properly in the eyes of the customers and that you can continue. Do you have a sustainable way of being in the market as a significant player and, basically, earning profit?

Thank you so much. It's been lovely to chat all things customer experience with you, and thank you for attending the Customer Experience Exchange.

Thank you very much.