Customer experience is probably the hottest trend in digital right now.

One need only observe the martech vendors falling over themselves in the rush to reposition as customer experience platforms to know that marketers are sold on the idea of CX optimisation.

However, in my view it remains a rather nebulous term. By its definition the customer experience can cover anything and everything, so it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is.

Many companies now have a Head of CX, but what exactly does this person do? And what are their KPIs?

To try and add some clarity to this issue, I spoke to Tim MacIvor, head of customer experience at River Island. The clothing retailer created the new role in May this year to try and get a better overall view of the customer journey across offline and online channels.

According to Tim, the challenge he’s been set is: “How do we create a seamless, integrated experience for our customers wherever and whenever they want to use our products or get information from us?” As you might imagine, a lot of it has to do with breaking down those pesky internal silos and encouraging teams to work together more effectively. 

River Island is a multichannel retailer, so the customer experience involves everything “from ecommerce to high street stores, to the tech team, to marketing, and operations as well.”

So where does the Head of CX sit within the organisation? Or is it a floating, maverick role that has control over anyone and everyone?

In Tim’s case, he sits within the marketing team and reports into the Customer Director. “But that’s my solid line, there are dotted lines left, right and centre,” he explains. “But from my point of view, I sit within marketing for no specific reason other than that it’s a reasonably central hub within the business.”

tim macivor

Tim MacIvor, head of CX at River Island

Is there a perfect CX?

River Island is going through a period of digital transformation, which includes upgrading its in-store tech, reviewing its data and CRM processes, and looking at how to better engage with customers on mobile.

Much of this work started before Tim joined the company, but it’s now his responsibility to ensure that customer journeys and “core missions” are properly mapped out and catered to.

In a nutshell, this involves “understanding the different personas we have, the way that our customers use the different touch points, and then making sure that we’ve got experiences that meet their demands.” This is obviously a very complex task.

As a fashion retailer, River Island’s core aim is to “inspire its customers to look and feel great.” This mission has to be communicated across its initial customer touchpoints, through to content and merchandising, ordering, fulfilment, and re-engagement post-sale.

As well as ensuring that offline and online channels are working in harmony throughout this customer journey, there’s the added complication that every customer has a different version of the ideal CX. 

According to Tim, “that might be a rich immersive experience for some customers, who want a bit of time spent to explain how they’ll look great at the wedding they have planned on Saturday, all the way through to that customer who has just parked their car outside the shop and needs to dash in to collect their parcel that they have opted to click and collect.”

No mean feat, but one that all multichannel retailers have to overcome.

Prior to working at River Island, Tim held similar positions at Tesco Bank and Trainline. So how does CX differ across the financial services and travel sectors?

He noted that within travel, the focus is on speed and efficiency. Trainline aims to get train tickets into the customer’s hands as quickly as possible by stripping out some of the complexity around being in a regulated industry.

“You can’t make a train ticket particularly sexy, it’s a functional activity. The aim there was making sure that the experience is clear and precise, so the customer understood what they were buying and understood the terms and conditions that went with that, so that they got the right product for themselves. And then understanding if something went a little bit wobbly, how they could get a refund.”

Financial services businesses approach CX from a similar perspective – how can we communicate complex information in a simple way so the customer is confident they are buying the right product?

While retailers aim for speed and efficiency in much of the customer journey (e.g. ecommerce design, customer service), Tim said that CX at River Island differs from his previous roles due to the industry’s aim of inspiring customers as well as offering a frictionless, functional transaction.

river island inspiration

The Inspiration tab on River Island's website includes content such as style features with up and coming British music acts, with the options to shop their look.

How do you know your CX is improving?

If CX is all-encompassing, then how do you pick which KPIs are worth tracking? And how do you prove the situation is improving?

According to Tim: “Every part of the customer journey has a distinct thing that you can measure success by, but at the highest level we look at sales and Net Promoter Score (NPS). 

“NPS is the true test of customer advocacy, do they love or loathe us, and sales is the application of that NPS. I can say I love your brand, but if I don’t shop with you then I don’t love you that much.”

River Island currently asks the NPS question at a brand level as part of its bi-annual brand tracker, which asks about perceptions of competitors alongside those of River Island.

However, the retailer is also extending use of NPS into other areas of the customer journey including call centres, in-store and post-purchase.

Tim said that NPS is useful as a headline KPI as it’s easily understood by everyone in the business. However, on its own it doesn’t mean a lot – the true value lies in the verbatim information collected alongside the numerical score, “because that’s the emotional reaction and that’s where the real gold is.”

By looking through verbatim answers, River Island is able to discover what a customer felt, what their expectations were, and what can be improved. This helps with prioritisation of tasks, as Tim can see which customer pain points require immediate attention.

River Island is also developing the capability to track contacts per order, which is the ratio of the efficiency to deal with a customer problem or an order at the first attempt. Tim said that if the business does a great job of selling or serving a product upfront, then there’s no need for a customer to come back and ask supplementary questions. 

Acting on information

Establishing a set of KPIs is one thing, but how does a Head of CX interpret and act on that information? How much power do they have to change processes within other departments?

Tim gave the fictitious example of the contact ratio going up. This might be a symptom of a wider problem, so he would speak to the contact centre to find out the reasons why customers were getting in touch. This would help identify any broader issues, which can then be directed to the relevant product owner.

“If it’s a fulfilment or delivery issue, then we will go and speak to our courier services team and find out if there was a problem with data transfer or with a particular region.”

Tracking loyalty among fickle customers

Customer loyalty is another indicator of whether a business offers a good customer experience.

While Tim is dubious as to whether loyalty really exists in the digital age, particularly among fast fashion retailers, River Island does monitor KPIs that tie to customer loyalty.

These include cost per acquisition or cost per conversion (which will also be rolled out in-store soon using some Google beacons), as well as customer lifetime value.

Tim said the company has a cohort of frequent customers who outperform the rest in terms of revenue contribution and, like most businesses, it’s these customers that River Island covets.

However, “the volume of choice and the immediacy with which customers demand stuff means that while your brand might be considered, you won’t be the only one that a customer is considering nowadays.

“Loyalty is a very important piece because if you get the right customers and you serve them in the right way then they are more likely to consider you, and then hopefully they transact, but just to assume that because a customer is a loyal customer then they will be loyal to your brand forever is kind of a dead concept for us.”

The future of CX

I wrapped up our chat by asking Tim how he feels the CX function has evolved in recent years and whether he felt it had become more of a priority for businesses.

Intriguingly, Tim’s various CX roles have sat within different departments. At Trainline he worked in the operations team and looked at CX mainly from a call centre and digital servicing perspective.

In contrast, his new role is far more expansive, which Tim takes as an indication that CX has begun to permeate through all different parts of the business.

“Certainly the remit has become far, far broader than it was even a couple of years ago. The remit of CX is a holistic view of every single interaction that the customer has with you, not just a subsection of the organisation. But that’s not just a maturation of the CX discipline, it’s also a realisation that organisations now see that every interaction with a customer matters, so how do we get consistency across all those touchpoints?

“..centralising that customer experience and putting coordination and prioritisation of change within that remit, certainly more progressive organisations are heading that way.”

Further reading:

David Moth

Published 15 November, 2017 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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