A conversation with David Shulman, chief experience officer of VMLY&R on how his recent visit to India shaped his opinions on the significance of customer expereince.
The often-ignored subject of customer experience is gradually becoming an important part of a brand’s bid to differentiate itself from competitors and why should it not! Consumers today are spoilt for choice. One slip-up and they will switch to another brand.
On his first visit to India, David Shulman, chief experience officer (CXO), VMLY&R, drives the conversation further as he sheds more light on the significance of “experience” in charting a brand’s growth.
A ‘chief experience officer’ is a relatively new title in the world of marketing? What is the remit of your role?
As a title, one could say so, but the notion of customer experience (CX) is nothing new. It goes back to years of valuing customer-centricity. In the realm of advertising, it has always been something that the best companies have built brands on and those brands are a commitment to deliver on the promises.
The evolution we are seeing in the marketing industry is an opportunity to not just tell something to a customer who we are trying to sell to, but also help them experience that promise. As a CXO, one has to make sure that with the resources we have, we do not just help brands define and communicate what they stand for but build experiences where customers can interact with the brand as it translates into more loyalty and sales for the company.
As work becomes increasingly digital, where do you see the CX function moving to?
When an organisation is siloed, it’s really difficult to build experiences. You may have a website that optimised to give a customer really good interaction, but if they later talk to a person at the customer service centre and their experience is different, that’s a breakdown. Every channel has to be individually optimised and then connected to make the journey satisfying.
Perhaps the best part about moving to digital is that you can evaluate every interaction because it has a digital record. You can look at the activities and see response time and see people’s interactions. So it gives us information which is very valuable for us.
The flipside is that the customers know and now expect more than ever, not just in India, but globally. So, if you are an auto manufacturer, it’s not about being as good or better priced than the rival, it’s about whether you provide a better experience to your customer because that would be the key thing you would be judged on. If you step out of an Uber and had a great experience, that’s going to be the bar that’s set for my expectations for my other cab rides.
With so many touchpoints running the risk of creating a bad experience, how difficult is it to be a CXO?
It’s not about asking a customer to do something different than what they want to do, it’s understanding what the customer is trying to achieve and looking for ways in which we can add value. In the past, we thought about competing, having the best price, having the best product, the best service response time – now it’s about making sure that every point of interaction is seamless and connected.
For example, an airline spends a lot of time and resources in training its staff to offer customers the best experience, but one point of breakdown that can go a long way in creating an image of the airline that the consumer might not want to opt for it again. Irrespective of how the brand has advertised itself, one negative experience can shape loyalty. My understanding of behavioural psychology tells me that an advertisement cannot change the perception of a brand.
Customers today are far more aware, too. It’s unlikely that they will hold you accountable for things you cannot control, but it’s important for the brand to make customers understand expectations. One has to focus on what the pain points are and try to bring correction there.
Specific to the Indian landscape, how do you see the evolution of CX?
Historically, Indian brands have been somewhat laggards when it comes to customer experience. But that also creates a lot of scope in the market. Starting from a basic audit on how customers have responded to different channels of the brand, one can understand where they stand in terms of experience.
The sheer size of the Indian market is exciting as it offers tremendous potential for growth. I am not here to build a new notion of CX, but it’s a philosophy I follow for every client. Considering India is still growing and maturing as a market, it becomes easier for a brand to present themselves as different from others if they start focusing on making the overall experience of the customer better.
Have brands started waking up to the significance of CX?
Slowly, but yes. Some categories more than others, I think. A bank, for example, has multiple touchpoints – whether it’s the branch, the ATM, the app, the laptop, etc. – it has to get it right at every spot. We are partnering with brands to help them in building a good CX, but there is still a huge opportunity that remains to be explored. We have been trying to explain that this is not just about face-value, it helps drive actual ROI and helps the business.
You have been on the client-side with Jaguar and now you are on the other side as an agency? How has the shift been?
My time spent as a client gives me more empathy about pressure around timing and different responsibilities and it has been a great learning experience for me to be on both sides. The crux is to make sure that the clients and agencies work together and appreciate each other’s insight. An agency is successful if its client’s business grows and that’s what drives us.
What do you feel is the difference between a chief experience officer and a chief marketing officer?
It’s less of a change in the job description and more of philosophy on how we focus and prioritise the activities we do. So, it’s often that a brand will focus on objectives that are very business-oriented and my job as a CXO is to drive conversations and activities that are balancing the value to bring to the brand we serve and the value that the brands bring to the customers that they serve.
As different profiles have different remits, the end CX tends to be fragmented. They are all working on their individual pieces. We stitch that entire piece together. The idea is to change the mindset. It’s a change you need to make within the organisation that brings all verticals together so that the customers see one single and consistent experience from a brand.
I think it’s the balance of doing both that serves the business well when we are delivering things that drive business value. If those activities are creating great experiences in the marketplace and customers are being satisfied, those customers will talk about their experiences. If the experience is good, they will be loyal and purchase more from the brands they are interacting with.
Interview conducted by Harsh Vardhan of ET Brand Equity