How can agencies differentiate their CX offerings to clients?
We speak to four agencies offering cutting-edge CX capabilities, finding out as part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy how they manage to catch the eye of clients.
R/GA recently took on a wholesale reworking of Benetton's CX approach / R/GA
Advertiser demand for customer experience (CX) services has risen dramatically in recent years. Naturally, there are many agencies seeking to use their creative expertise and digital knowhow to meet that demand.
But customer experience is a broad church, covering everything from e-commerce and touchpoint design to customer service, customer engagement and marketing comms to standalone digital products.
With so many competitors offering CX services to the market, how can an agency stand out from the crowd?
New to market
In February, Krow Group launched its a new ’creative CX’ agency, Krow X. As you might expect, its team has been thinking plenty about how to stand out in the market.
According to Eliot Sykes, its client strategy director, the agency’s launch built on seven years of experience in CX from within the group. He tells us that clients want help to ”understand where their customers are and how to connect with them better, to really have a meaningful relationship with them in their lives rather than just selling, and to understand the channels they’re in and how they can be more effective and efficient so they can make every penny work.”
The rise in client demand during the pandemic, plus its own increased workload in this area, meant the time was ripe for a specialized agency offering. Krow’s team aims to emphasize the creativity involved in a strong CX treatment, with managing partner and creative director Michael Howes explaining: ”It was a natural evolution to stay relevant.”
He says: ”The strongest, most valuable assets we have are making really good, strong, meaningful creative and understanding clients from a CX point of view. It made real sense to evolve those two things as the core offering that we have and build our agency and all of our processes around that.”
The hope is that it can help Krow access longer-lasting relationships with its clients, providing the business with stable partners and customers with a trusted ally. ”It’s not a one and done thing,” says Sykes. ”It’s continual. Customers are continually changing. You need to keep an eye on it, keep abreast of it and ahead of it to stay relevant with customers – and, hopefully, ahead of your competition as well.”
Experience in experience
Ilia Uvarov is the vice-president and executive creative director at R/GA London. He has been working on CX applications longer than the term has been in use, starting his career at the agency on its interaction design team.
”R/GA was one of the first – if not the first – digital agencies to pioneer the whole approach of design thinking and human-centric design,” he says.
For much of his career, Uvarov has been working to educate clients about what CX is and what it isn’t. “I still remember walking in and talking about that and it sounding like a humungous revelation. You had to make the case for it.“
In recent years, though, brands have caught up, employing dedicated CX teams of their own. “Typically, companies come to us when they want to achieve a particular result, whether it’s an existing brand that wants to look again at the whole end-to-end experience and fuse brand qualities to increase its differentiation, or whether it’s a new proposition they need to bring to market where the goal is to create something from scratch.”
While R/GA is keen to emphasize that its CX offering is joined at the hip to its formidable creative capabilities, Uvarov says a key point of difference for the agency is its promise to ”turn the broader idea of experience into signature moments”.
A prime example is its recent work for Benetton, which saw the agency redesign the fashion brand’s entire digital presence over the course of just four months. ”The ultimate success is when you actually managed to create signature moments for brands that elevate experiences in a very unique, iconic way that no one else can do.”
For Tracy Barber, global chief marketing officer of Havas Creative Group, the key selling point for the network’s CX offering is its connection to the overall Havas product.
”Midway through 2020, we brought all of our agencies that had CX capabilities together under a common structure, with a shared governance, a shared way of working and a clear focus in the terms of our mission,” she says. ”And it has flown, to be frank.”
Havas CX now includes 2,000 staff across 20 countries, which is the majority of its territories. According to Barber, Havas’s integrated offering has enabled it to bring in new business and expand its role on accounts it already held. Its UK business for Volkswagen, for example, was extended into new territories off the back of its integrated CX offering. ”It’s about broadening the proposition and utilizing the Village model [where it brings creative, media and health all under the same roof] to connect better to clients.”
Increasingly, she says, Havas CX clients are also customers of its creative and media agencies. ”Obviously we have clients that are pure CX clients and we have clients that are Village clients. But what has been significant to that growth is that all of those CX capabilities all sit at the heart of each Village and we’ve got a common strategy. We have a global chief strategy officer who sits across both the creative network and the CX network. Everything that we’re trying to do is about combining capabilities. It makes it easier for clients and less clumsy.”
Its acquisition of Gate One, a London-based business transformation consultancy, has also boosted its CX proposition. Its North American customer engagement and data agency Helia subsequently won every client pitch it went up for last year.
”The icing on the cake is that we can bring in that digital transformation consultancy, through Gate One as part of the overall proposition,” says Barber. ”We don’t have those separate silos, we can just bring in the capability that we need when and how we need it.”
The indie angle
Integrated agency VCCP has maintained a CX practice for around a decade, though it has been through several iterations during that time. Scott Ewings, chief executive officer of VCCP CX, tells The Drum that it focuses on filling ”the gap between strategy and execution”, which other providers leave.
”We’re about breakthrough brand experiences. In the customer experience world, you can get trapped in the incremental. Most brands of scale are looking to fundamentally differentiate themselves via the experiences their customers have with them. Our difference point is always tied deeply to brand... brand purpose is where we always start, trying to get the brand purpose manifesting itself really tangibly at every touchpoint in a customer’s journey and life cycle with a brand.”
Combining brand purpose with a customer’s actual experience of a brand is less airy than it sounds. Last year, for example, VCCP CX designed an Easter egg hunt for long-time client Cadbury’s that allowed locked-down customers to hide and provide Easter eggs for their friends and family. Mastery of the customer experience allowed VCCP to create a uniquely Cadbury project for the chocolatier.
”Cadbury’s brand purpose is about generosity of spirit, which underpins all its products and services,” explains Ewing. ”We do a lot of work crafting experiences that are campaign oriented, whether they’re at a touchpoint or throughout, and take high level marketing and branding and make it live and breathe.”
Digitas UK’s head of strategy Charlene Charity tells The Drum that its CX offering is part of efforts to help make clients ”future ready”. In practice, that means linking creative, media and CRM for ”a lifecycle marketing approach that builds meaningful customer relationships that drive engagement, retention and loyalty”.
With much of the legwork in CX now done by SaaS systems – Salesforce, for example, means agencies such as Digitas, R/GA and VCCP don’t have to build great e-commerce experiences from scratch – Charity says a bespoke approach is still best. ”It doesn’t cut it to be serving the same journey for different brands that have different customer expectations and needs. From what we’ve seen, many agencies focus on building and optimizing experiences but don’t truly understand how the brand can make an experience more memorable.”
Though it offers expertise consulting, platforms and product development, digital media and customer engagement, it is the team’s understanding of what customers want from a given experience that helps the agency stand out.
”We take time to understand the customer and what they truly need. In our recent Coex audit we uncovered that although most retailers were focusing on improving the checkout experience, this was delivering diminishing returns,” she explains.
”What customers wanted was an improved browsing experience, with the biggest opportunity to drive change across product and color selection as these most highly correlated with customer satisfaction.”
For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.