How to Deliver Optimal Customer Experience with Richard Owen.

Susanne Axelsson

This blog is part of a series summarizing the sessions from the Frontline Experience Summit 2020. For the full video of this and every other session, as well as updates on this year's summit join the Frontline Magic Community.

The way in which we deliver optimal customer experience is changing. What worked ten years ago, for many businesses, is obsolete now. With emerging technologies, automation and artificial intelligence it can be tricky to navigate how to win on customer experience. 

Do you sprint towards digital and focus on automation? Or do you keep human experience at the forefront? Richard Owen, a panelist at the AskNicely Frontline Summit provides some simple answers to these sometimes overwhelming questions...

Richard is the founder and CEO of the OCX Group, an organization with the singular purpose of helping corporations achieve success with their customer experience programs. He believes that optimal customer experience is delivered through a harmonious combination of automation and human interaction. This perfect combination is dictated by the unique needs of the customer segment, the nature of the task (as opposed to the function) and a new found collaboration between functional departments, where a unified view of the customer experience is shared. 

Most of us know that digital technology is the driving force behind change in the customer experience space. That, alongside a globalized economy with the ability to outsource labour has caused a surge in labour arbitrage (that is, reducing costs by finding equivalent but less expensive human capital). You’ve probably heard the apocalyptic story of evil machines wiping out all of the white collar occupations… No more frontline teams, no more jobs, no more human interaction. While it makes for a great campfire story, Richard believes it’s a simple way of looking at the rise of digital technology, and in reality, humans will always play a key part in customer experience. 

The truth is, digital technology and automation is a wonderful thing. It’s eliminated a huge amount of friction in how people do business and has ultimately raised the bar of customer experience. Richard believes that COVID-19 was just the accelerator to the  shifts that were already happening — a sprint towards digital, remote working, a flux in labour productivity and customer experience defined on the fly. However, digital can’t operate alone. At least not as well as a digital / human hybrid. 

“A study done by MIT pointed out that the combination of humans and machines actually make better decisions than either humans or machines on their own” 

Which brings us to the two vital ingredients to the perfect customer experience recipe… 

Richard states that there are two fundamental overlapping waves of innovation when it comes to how we deliver experience through frontline interactions: 

  1. Digitize the humans
  2. Humanize the digital 

“We are essentially trying to digitize tasks, whereas at the same time, we recognize that entirely digital experiences, for certain segments of the population, aren't the best answer. They don't maximize customer experience.”

The key here? The needs and desires of your customer segments. We’re not talking one size fits all here, team. 

Let’s take the example of a bank….

Stuart and Debbie are both 65 years old. They see a bank branch as a core part of the banking spirit. When they are working with their personal finances, they like to go to a physical location and speak with a real person. They don’t want to talk about finances over the phone and they certainly don’t want to input their credit card information into an app. 

Then there’s Ocean and Fox (a classic gen-z duo), who are both 24, and have never entered a bank branch in their life. Nor do they plan to. They use PayPal and Venmo and couldn’t think of anything worse than waiting in a line at a real bank to speak with a real person. Exhausting. 

The point? It’s the same business, with the same product/service, but the bank must create unique digital and human customer experiences based on the needs of the customer segment.

Not only must you recognize the unique needs of the customer segment, but also at the nature of the task (as opposed to the function of the task).  What do we mean by this? Richard provides a simple answer: automate friction-orientated task and hum-anise emotional-orientated tasks. 

“Tasks that are friction-oriented, that the customer perceives as being high friction, should be automated. Tasks that have any emotional content to them, or they have high degrees of ambiguity associated with them - don’t automate them. Get human beings in front of people”. 

So we know that Fox and Ocean see transferring money, for example, as a friction based task — they’d rather go online than visit a branch. Whereas an example of an emotional-based task might be buying an expensive suit. They’d rather go in store and have an in-person experience. Of course friction vs emotional is going to look different between different customer segments, but that is the fundamental rule of hybrid design.

So we know that humans and frontline teams are a key ingredient to delivering optimal customer experience for various tasks and customer segments, but how do we go about finding and empowering the right people to deliver that experience? 

Power assisted people. 

Remember that study from MIT? The combination of humans and machines makes better decisions than either humans or machines on their own. Richard says your goal is to find new digital tools (*cough, cough, the AskNicely Frontline feature*) to help empower your frontline employees to deliver optimal customer experience. 

Measuring customer satisfaction is no longer enough. Your team should be supported with information tools, decision support tools and feedback tools that create a competitive advantage for your business. Richard advises mapping out a series of factors around employee engagement strategies to customer experience outcomes, to better understand what the behavioral drivers are that indicate both productivity amongst empowered employees and CX outcomes. We want to find solutions that increase productivity, and help frontline employees delight customers through their work. 

The most important message I'd give you is you should be thinking about understanding how to measure the attributes of employees that typically generate better customer experience outcomes” 

Finally, in order to deliver optimal customer experience, we must have a unified view of what that experience looks like that transcends across different functional departments. If teams collaborate around customer problems, decision making is faster and the outcomes are more meaningful. Richard believes that an allied approach to customer experience is the last mile to solve complex customer problems. 

To summarize:

  • Embrace emerging technologies, and optimize on the future.

  • Create hybrid digital/human experiences that tailor to the needs of our customer segments.

  • Power-assist people, particularly your frontline teams, using tools and technologies to increase productivity and win on CX.

  • Create a unified view of the customer experience, and work together to solve customer problems. 

Through doing so, you will increase productivity, empower frontline teams and make every customer experience awesome. 

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

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