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The customer experience bar has risen, so too must your digital experience

Delightful CX? The Drum caught up with Susanne Ronnqvist Ahmadi, vice-president of international marketing at HubSpot

The pandemic has hastened the pivot to digital exponentially, leaving some businesses unprepared. At the same time, the customer experience (CX) bar has been raised and buyers still expect businesses to be easy to buy from, engage with, and get service from.

But who bears responsibility for providing this CX? What will a ‘delightful’ customer experience look like and what will ensure this process is made as easy as possible? CX needs redefining to become a mindset, not just something a business does. And achieving this takes a holistic customer relationship management (CRM) strategy powered by a modern CRM platform, with buy-in from all team members.

The Drum caught up with Susanne Ronnqvist Ahmadi, vice-president of international marketing at HubSpot, to get her take on just what those expectations are and where that bar is set.

How have customer expectations changed and which of these new behaviors are set to stick around?

The question customers have is: If a business I was interacting with provided a great digital experience during the lockdown, why wouldn’t they be able to maintain it in a post-pandemic world?

For today’s consumers, being delighted isn’t an added value to their experience as your customer anymore; it’s the inner foundation your relationship is built on. Consumers will react more to a moment of friction than to a moment of seamless performance. With the acceleration of digitalization and the consumerization of many business tools such as Zoom, buyers are now more independent, expect more intuitive experiences and are more empowered to switch service if the experience doesn’t live up to their expectations.

Only those companies that anticipate their customers’ needs and wants, put them at the center of everything they do and deliver seamless, contextual experiences across all touchpoints will thrive in today’s highly competitive landscape.

How can businesses create a seamless CX these days?

It is crucial to bring together marketing, sales and customer service under one team and then bring together a decision-making group that owns the end-to-end customer experience and creates a winning aspiration centered around customers, not functions. This will enable any business to move faster and be customer-centric.

At HubSpot, we use a flywheel approach to ensure different business units are continually working together to help our customers. The funnel approach has previously dominated CX. Different functions focus only on fulfilling their part of the funnel before passing the customer on to be someone else’s problem once the sale is made. Instead, the flywheel approach puts the customer at the heart of a continuous process to attract, engage and delight customers, meaning all functions have an ongoing responsibility to support one another in fulfilling goals for the overall business.

What’s the role of technology and what do legacy blockers need to overcome?

The survival mindset of 2020 led to processes and operations not suitable for scale. As CX has grown more complex, most companies have brought in a patchwork of disparate technologies from different sources, each with a completely different underlying tech stack: a CRM to manage customer data, a customer management system (CMS) to build their website, and marketing automation to scale their efforts.

When two completely different systems are cobbled together, the burden of making them work together is foisted on to the customer. This route is holding companies back, slowing them down and depriving them of having a complete customer view. Also reconciling these differences without causing friction for customers is an almost impossible task.

To scale without adding complexity in 2021 and beyond, today’s businesses need a powerful and easy-to-use CRM platform that enables them to create a ‘single point of customer truth’ that customer-facing teams can feed into – and, crucially, pull from – helping them remove friction in customer interactions and deliver delightful digital experiences. On this front, HubSpot has made a conscious decision to invest in our own product team so our customers benefit from software that’s cohesive, customizable and empowering. Our solutions are carefully crafted in-house using a collection of proven tools, components and systems that seamlessly work together as the building blocks of the user experience.

Where should businesses be making better investments?

To get the digital experience right, quality data is essential: reliable, organized and actionable data, providing insights into each individual customer’s experience. ‘Who are your customers?’ is no longer a valid question. Instead, you need to be able to have the complete picture of this and that specific customer. What does the digital journey look like? When, where and how have they interacted with your business? What do they need and want from you now and, most importantly, what will they expect from you next?

It’s also critical to ensure businesses make every part of the digital journey accessible online. We’ve seen more website traffic than ever post-pandemic and customers will expect the same accessibility and convenience that companies have offered them over the last year.

Nowadays, it’s about linking what’s happening on your website – the front door of your business – to the rest of the customer experience. This can be a big challenge for companies that do not use CRM platforms. There will be brands who have reached the limit of what their current set-up can manage and feel like they have hit a roadblock. It is time for businesses to start thinking about CMS as part of CRM because of how strongly linked customer experience is to websites today. The customer experience bar has risen, so too must your digital experience.

Who should be responsible for "owning" the CX within a business?

Pretty much every customer-facing team is responsible, from marketing to sales to customer service. At HubSpot, we deeply believe in the role of the chief customer officer as the unifier and enabler for different functions across the business, with the major responsibility of bringing alignment and breaking the silos in the business.

Marketing, sales, and customer service teams have a wealth of experience in their own disciplines but are often disconnected from each other. These silos in your internal experience show up as friction in the customer experience. That’s why the chief customer officer’s role is so important to help the business run better – building alignment, unifying the customer-facing teams, and providing them with a common framework and goals so that they can deliver delightful end-to-end customer experiences.

Which brands are disrupting the CX space?

The pandemic is only accelerating trends that we were seeing before. In industry after industry, we’re seeing businesses disrupt incumbents with better experiences – both in B2C and B2B environments.

Revolut, a fintech unicorn, puts the user experience above everything else, making it as easy and intuitive for customers as possible. From opening a bank account in less than a minute to solving any inquiry via live messaging almost instantly or exchanging currencies at interbank rates at the touch of a button, ease of use and speed are the credo Revolut seems to live by.

In the B2B space, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a great example. Once, businesses had to buy physical, rack-mounted servers. These were expensive for the customer to maintain. AWS flipped the model on its head. Instead of a high upfront investment to set up servers, customers essentially rented space on Amazon’s. Customers only paid for what they used, and AWS did all the optimizing for them. This saved money and time.

What steps should businesses take to elevate CX to mindset status?

Companies that want to be customer-first organizations often think about things like: does our product work? Are our handoffs smooth? Can our customers get the help they need, when they need it? These things are important, but they are all about orchestration and strategy, and being customer-first starts much earlier. Transforming your organization to deliver a consistent customer experience requires thinking about CX as both an art and a science.

The artistic side is all about your culture. I think of culture as ‘art’ because art is freewheeling, and something that the artist (in this case, your leadership team) creates. Your culture should be unique to your business, customers, employees and the way you want to engage them.

Science follows a methodology and order of operations, and similarly there is a set of core practices that can be applied across different industries and types of companies and still work well. These disciplines are aligned teams, strategy, systems and incentives. I would argue both are equally important, and neither is enough to delight customers on its own.

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