Noted for his ability to educate through anecdote, Alan has combined his passion for the customer, with a love of education as a route to personal success. He will draw on a world of experiences and pass these on to illustrate what works and how to make it work. Equally comfortable in the boardroom or the team workshop, Alan is approachable and engaging and never more than a moment away from talking about his favourite passion of how to improve your customer experiences.
Today we have managed to get a moment of Alan's time, to hear some of his insights first-hand, and to discuss his new Customer Experience book. So without further ado, allow me to introduce today's guest, Alan Pennington.
Hi Alan, thanks so much for stopping by the Activia Expert Insights section – could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure. I started my career in retail, that is where my fascination with all things customer began - specifically how the experiences we have impact on how we behave, and the choices that we make. This in the end led me to the crazy decision (at least it felt like it at the time) to set up a consulting business dedicated to providing practical help for companies that wanted to improve their experiences. With a great team we built that to be a truly global business that was eventually sold to a US business. Now I advise companies at board level, and have just had the book on the subject that was commissioned by Pearson ‘The Customer Experience Book’ published.
How did you find yourself becoming involved with customer experience?
I have always believed that delivering what you promise in your communication is both an honest thing to do and also good for the business commercially – working in retail you get to do that every day. However I found it increasingly frustrating in my personal life when I hit really poor experiences that could be so much better if just a few things were changed – that was where the ‘obsession’ I guess started, a desire to do something about it rather than just moan down the pub!
Your new book The Customer Experience Book: How to Design, Measure and Improve Customer Experience in Your Business is out now, could you tell us a little more about it?
It was the product of many conversations, and a need to fill a big gap in the customer experience world – because it is still quite a young discipline, but it is rapidly gaining traction strategically. Now people are being put into positions as leaders of Customer Experience in their business, yet neither the people doing the appointing or the new appointees are quite sure what they should actually be doing – there was no real source of practical advice, hence the book.
I constantly ask senior Executives who are lamenting the failure of the team to deliver “what did you task your new CE lead with achieving in the first 100 days? What would success have looked like?” the answer 9 times out of 10 is: ‘ we were expecting the person we put into the job to work that out!” Of course that means you are setting someone up to fail not succeed. The book is designed to help both the Executives that want to engage with their experience but are not quite sure how, what their role will be, how they can do it with everything else going on, and the front line teams actually doing this every day.
It helps you to think differently about solving problems and creating business solutions, and overall should raise the confidence levels of all those involved in customer experience.
Why did you feel this topic was important to address in a book?
As everything else becomes a commodity, prices converge new product innovations can be quickly replicated the Customer Experience is one of the few areas that businesses can truly create competitive advantage and differentiate themselves. The financial results of those that are leaders in terms of focus on integrating the customer experience into their business strategy and planning are providing the increasingly compelling argument and that is driving senior Executives thirst for knowledge and capability to use this component to underpin their business results. The book fills that “knowledge gap”
Have you got any new exciting projects that you’re working on?
I am really keen to provide education and training in this quickly emerging discipline, so I am looking at how we can build this thinking into the many University courses out there, so that the next generation will be ahead of the curve and attuned to the importance of delivering on the customer experience and how to do that.
Why does customer experience interest you so much?
Simple we live it every day, and so it is actually a really easy subject to engage people with - you can find new examples to illustrate your point just walking into the Office. What could be more fun that designing an experience that delivers on a promise made by the millions of pounds spent in advertising and that people appreciate everyday!!
In general, how has customer experience changed and developed in recent years?
When we first set up the consulting business some 15 years ago people were talking about the Customer Experience, but it was still seen as a part of Marketing - rather fluffy, unquantifiable. This has really moved on in the last few years as more and more evidence emerges that actively designing your experiences drives significant bottom line benefit. I predict that it will become one of the biggest drivers of business success (and failure) over the next few years!
Could you explain the concept of Customer Journey Mapping to our readers?
Let me quote an extract from my book to answer this one “Put simply, customer journey mapping is a structured way to understand and capture your customer’s wants, needs and expectations at each stage of their experience with your company. Then, to capture the individual interactions from the customer viewpoint from initial awareness to leave and perhaps return”. It is an ‘outside-in’ view of what it is like to experience your company.
Do you feel that most businesses do not focus enough on customer experience?
Most businesses will talk about their customer experience, but most still struggle to engage with it in a meaningful way and there are a lot of historical factors that stand in their way. Not least the lack of a well established Organisational Design that incorporates Customer Experience - where does it fit Brand/Marketing/Ops/HR? Similarly there is not integration into financial planning - very few businesses will have Customer Experience as a line in their annual Commercial Plan. So we need to work on breaking down those historical and other barriers, and provide the confidence and business structures that allow the customer experience to deliver for the customers and the businesses.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
The world of customer experience is hugely exciting, thinking differently about how we do things, it is a genuine career choice now and I would really encourage your readers to think about how they can get involved ;)
Alan's book The Customer Experience Book: How to Design, Measure and Improve Customer Experience in Your Business is available to order on Amazon. Or if you'd like to say hello on Twitter you can find him at @alankpennington.