Meet the CX Network LIVE speaker: Senior Strategy Manager at Google

Google’s Senior Strategy Manager discusses the role of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the CX of the future.

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Following on from our interview with the Director of Customer Experience, Customer Insights and Digital Analytics at Amtrak last week, today we’re excited to share a Q&A with another speaker at our upcoming CX Network LIVE virtual conference: Thomas Reby, Senior Strategy Manager at Google and CX Network Advisory Board member.

At Google, Reby supports consumer operations in areas such as Gmail, Google Maps and Pixel hardware, has. He has extensive experience from technology companies, including Google, YouTube, eBay, Dell and Electronic Arts.

For more from Electronic Arts, check out this podcast interview with the company's Head of Customer Care Operations...

During his career he has managed global operations in e-commerce, technical support, content management and digital advertising, as well as held key leadership positions developing strategies for CX, revenue generation and knowledge management.

At CX Network LIVE: The Smart Customer Experience he will be presenting a session titled ‘Why smart brands don’t have a customer experience programme’. Today he gives a sneak peek at what’s in store for audience members, and he talks about how companies can set their CX apart from their competitors.

Hi Thomas, first of all, why should people attend your session at CX Network LIVE?

My session will be thought provoking on what customer satisfaction really is, coupled with experience in how you should tailor programmes to both deliver as well as measure outcomes. I will speak about combining sales and service in an innovative way, which focuses heavily on the customer’s objectives.

The theme of the event is The Smart Customer Experience. We’re always talking about ‘working smarter, not harder’, but what has been the best thing you’ve achieved to make this a reality for the CX strategy at Google?

I have launched a programme that relies heavily on machine learning to optimise the work done by team members. Complex workflows often have team members (and customers) guessing which is the most effective path to take to solve a problem – often leading to frustration and time wasted.

At Google, I have been able to work with very talented people to make sure that systems are deployed exactly where human judgement falls short. In particular, how to optimise advertising campaigns – a process where many variables are in play and the complexity of solutions is high.

You have worked with CX, warranty cost and later knowledge management. Can you shed some light on this journey and how those areas relate?

I moved into CX programme work after having worked in operations with a keen eye to quality and improvement projects. Typically, CX is one of those areas to improve, as quality of service operations should always have an external component to it. That led me to work with survey design, customer journeys and satisfaction programmes.

In working with CX and improving customer service, cost inevitably comes up at some point. The challenge is, where to save and where to invest. Given my experience in CX, I was seen as a great candidate to work with reducing the cost of service without negative impact on the customer. This led to a lot of internal optimisation efforts, primarily in how customer interactions are handled.

During this time, I learned how much effective knowledge dissemination matters. How do you make sure all team members are as strong (or close to the best)? And how do you make sure everyone is aware of changes and new things as they come?

For me, knowledge management became the key problem to solve, in order to deliver high service expertise, whilst optimising for cost.

"At Google, I have been able to work with very talented people to make sure that systems are deployed exactly where human judgement falls short."

What sets a company's CX apart from the competition – how do you differentiate yourself in a world of ever-increasing service expectations?

By allowing yourself to be different! Today I see a lot of “me too” approaches to CX. I hear a lot of the same CX statements in service interactions and I see a lot of similar service design. It’s like companies are reading each others’ CX manuals and concluding that all features are worth copying.

The problem is, most often a unique approach, coupled with empathy, is what makes the difference. Granted, some things are becoming ‘must-haves’ in service, but often deviation from the norm is powerful. Do we all need the same surveys, IVR messages, welcome emails etc.?

I think it is important to train team members in brand ethos and culture, and then provide enough wiggle room to make conversations in service a whole lot better for everyone involved.

"For me, knowledge management became the key problem to solve, in order to deliver high service expertise, whilst optimising for cost."

What role will machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) play in defining customer experiences of the future?

I believe a lot of service interaction will become human to non-human in the years to come. Digital assistance will become much more able to provide recommendations proactively and much more contextually aware as data sources integrate.

We often listen to friends and family members for opinions and direction, but I think in the future certain digital solutions will become so fine-tuned that the experience will change by an order of magnitude.

I don’t see machines taking over the complex emotional and empathy-driven parts of experiences, but in areas of decision-making, optimisation and general rationality, AI has a huge advantage in being able to objectively parse through millions of data points.

Once we sort out privacy considerations, we will be able to find a way to let AI work with the data we generate throughout life to really be ‘always-on’ and recommend solutions to any given problem.

"I think it is important to train team members in brand ethos and culture."

Thinking of disrupting CX, what are the industries that you see are leading CX evolution and which ones are lagging? And why are they behind?

Unsurprisingly, one of the key themes I have noticed is how some companies have embraced technology to provide great customer experiences. What has surprised me, is the type of companies I see taking the lead – small and medium-sized businesses providing bespoke or niche consumer products.

What they have managed to do is use their small scale to their advantage through digital presence. They are able to tell compelling stories about why they exist and what they can offer. Despite being small, they are still providing great service because they are fully invested in their business. They have embraced web presence and marketing as ways of reaching a global audience, despite being essentially ‘mom and pop’ shops somewhere.

Conversely, I think financial institutions – and particularly insurance – is decades behind. Some of it may be due to regulation, but a lot of the lagging behaviour stems from inherent complexity as well as a very traditional view on customer interactions. It’s no longer about offering digitalisation and smart access, but rather customisation and a more dynamic flow of information about services and how they are used.

I believe a lot of service interaction will become human to non-human in the years to come.

You have worked a lot with outsourcing in your career so far – how do you ensure a 3rd party delivers CX as intended by the company that is outsourcing?

Being successful in outsourcing CX operations depends on a few key things:

First of all, it is critical that the vendor is aligned with your view of success (and that your view in term is aligned with the customer). We have a tendency to measure activity instead of outcome (relative to best possible, individual outcome).

If I measure contacts handled, average call time and an arbitrary case close metric, followed by a survey, I am not likely to truly ensure my vendor provides an empathetic, effective solution that truly brightens the customer’s day. Letting go of some of the activity control is key in order to allow your partner to deviate from the norm where it matters. That is often how great CX is delivered.

Secondly, it is important to include your partner in strategic and tactical planning, not just relegate them to the operational aspects of running the business. A great business outsourcing partner will have loads of experience to share and if you are willing to take their advice on board you can go far in sharing both risk and reward in the relationship.

SEE ALSO: CX Network LIVE: The Smart Customer Experience

Finally three quick-fire questions for you…

What is the best customer experience you have ever received?

When relocating to Ireland, I used a relocation company called Aires, which was without a doubt the best experience I have ever had. Moving your home and family to another country is a pretty big deal and they handled it exceptionally well.

Some of the key things they did that made a lasting impression:

•    Really focused on our needs, such as which kind of school we wanted for our children, what kind of home and neighbourhood, etc.
•    Tailored a comprehensive solution exactly to our needs; no two families are the same.
•    Consulted and brought in partners where needed, such as movers, air transport, insurance, utilities and other providers.
•    Educated throughout. They helped us understand Ireland (school system, living areas, tax structure). Education is a key part of great experiences.

What is the most overrated CX buzzword – and why?

Customer surveys and insights. Rarely is this really done well. Far too often I see surveys just designed to provide an operational metric to monitor. All the responses very often end in a digital abyss, instead of being turned into full-fledged improvement investments.

A well-run CX programme only needs data during the baselining and root cause analysis phase and then to control, post implementation of solutions. Having ongoing CSAT analysis and subjective insight analysis to prove points in arguments is not what truly improves the customer’s perception of your product or service.

And what has been the biggest learning in your career to date?

How much everything relies on interaction and relationships. As human beings, we are full of bias and irrationality and I think my biggest learning is how to turn that into positive moments in life. One of my first managers said “perception is always right” and I think that learning on how to focus on understanding and influencing others positively is the biggest career lesson so far.