American Express - or AmEx as it is more commonly known - is a global financial services brand that’s synonymous with delivering benefits to its customers, through their use of its instantly recognisable credit and payment cards. The company brings in over $50 billion in revenue a year and prides itself on delivering exceptional customer experience.
Speaking with AmEx’s VP of Customer Voice, Luis Angel-Lalanne, at this week’s Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, it’s clear that using data to understand customer sentiment is nothing new - but it is an evolving program that impacts functions throughout the organization. The priority is using data in near-real time to change how the business operates, nudging decision making in favor of what the customer is asking for.
Speaking to the company’s history of using experience data, Angel-Lalanne says:
Experience is so central to who American Express is, what we're all about. Customer experience is something we've been measuring for about 20 years. It’s so deeply embedded in our culture and who we are, no one would ever accuse us of it just being a fad.
20 years at a corporation, that's multi-generational for people who have come through. So it's critical to what we do. We measure experience at transaction level, the journey level, at the product level, brand level - all of those results go to all the different levels of the organization.
Angel-Lalanne started his position as VP of Customer Voice seven years ago, which is when he began exploring the use of Qualtrics at AmEx. The financial services company had been using another vendor for the previous 13 years and he decided it was time to take a fresh look at what was available in the industry.
The key purchasing requirement was that Qualtrics needed to support a nimble programme that would allow AmEx to evolve and adjust with customer expectations - for it to expand the way the company services its customers, as new channels pop up. Angel-Lalanne adds:
We really were looking for a program that was fast, nimble, dynamic. And so that started to get us interested in Qualtrics. The other piece that was really important was the partnership and the service. We wanted a partner who understood the problems we were trying to solve and the things we were trying to improve.
And Qualtrics always did a good job of proving that they’d thought about the questions we'd asked already. When we brought a topic up and wanted to talk about something, you got the sense that this wasn’t the first time they’d thought about it - they'd already been doing it.
A good example of how AmEx is using Qualtrics can be seen in how it adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As noted above, the key to the organization’s Experience Management program is connecting customer feedback to the optimal places across the company. This was critical during the pandemic, when customer behavior changed drastically overnight. Angel-Lalanne recalls:
During COVID, a lot of our travel and dining benefits weren't as valuable to card members. So we were putting out new offers, different value propositions, and we were able to take our feedback from the servicing channels and give it back to the product owners in real time. The feedback about the actual offering itself, about the mechanics of signing up for redeeming the offer. And because everything was moving so quickly, because of that real time feedback, and getting it out to the right person, they had time to adjust and make changes to processes etc.
That nimbleness to act and respond to the real time nature of it really helped us adjust to and respond to customers much more quickly than we would have been able to with a very fixed, regimented program. So that was really important to us.
One of the other things that AmEx started doing during COVID-19, using Qualtrics, was pulling data from customer comments that were collected in addition to the traditional survey, which allowed users to provide any feedback that they like in a comment box. This customer commentary was then sent out to AmEx leaders in near real-time. Angel-Lalanne exxplains:
The cool thing about that experience was, I first started sending it weekly to the leaders of the servicing organization, which is where I sit in the contact center group. And each time I did that, someone else would ask ‘Can I be added?’. After a series of weeks, we had people in risk management, finance, marketing, all wanting it. What was powerful about that too, is I'd be able to send out a file at like four o'clock in the afternoon and I'd have commentary from that morning in it.
Taking that commentary, the written notes from the customer, and sharing that, I think that’s how we really strengthen that connection - this is a real person who gave us their time to give us feedback.
Expanding the use of experience data
AmEx has been using Qualtrics to collect data from within its call center, assessing the impact on customers across a range of services that include account sign up, general servicing, credit interactions, etc. As already highlighted, it’s using that data as learning points to alter its products and services and better understand where it needs to improve the customer lifecycle at AmEx.
The next step for the organization, however, is thinking about expanding this to other channels. Angel-Lalanne explained:
Some of the things we're looking at include expanding some of our customer listening into omni-channel. My program started with the transactional voice of customer, which goes out after you interact with AmEx on the phone, or if you have a dispute, or a new account application.
But starting last year, we've been looking into how do we take those same principles into omni-channel listening? Looking at unstructured data, listening to and taking the transcripts on the phone calls, transcripts from the chat, and applying the same customer experience lens to that. So that's really what we're most excited about right now, is that expansion. How do we learn from every interaction? Not just the ones we get a survey response back on. That feels like an enormous untapped potential.
According to Angel-Lalanne, AmEx gets a terrific response rate from its current post-call surveys - but that these are still single digits, when taken as a whole of all the phone calls the organization fields. Moving to omni-channel could really open up a whole new world of data for the company. He says:
The ability to take that to almost 100%, that's going to be really powerful. And will allow us to start to do an even better job of connecting experience metrics to all the other metrics the organization cares about - to position experience as a unified metric across all the different things we care about.
I think our expectation is that the future of connecting all these things works with who we are at AmEx, and supports our continued vision that we want to deliver the world's best customer experience every day.
Key to success
Reflecting on how AmEx measures the success of its Experience Management program, Angel-Lalanne said that whilst its easy to have experience management data and share the results with people - the harder part is getting your stakeholders and partners to do something with it. He said:
That's usually our ultimate measure of success: are we bringing information to our business partners that allows them to do something different and make things better? Our own success is, are we having an impact in the organization, are we presenting information that allows them to make different decisions?
And in terms of advice for other organizations that are perhaps starting their own experience management programmes, Angel-Lalanne has a key piece of advice: stay attuned to the needs of the business. He adds:
Stay close enough to the businesses you're measuring, to know deeply what's important to them, what are the values, what are the metrics of success that they have, so you can help drive those. I think that that's part of what I would recommend to someone if they're like literally starting from scratch. Try to find that balance where you can be a center of excellence, but really as close as you can to the businesses that you're measuring are supporting.
The other piece of it, that I think we've been successful with, is having your results impact like multiple layers of the organization. Our transactional surveys go to each individual care professional, or phone representative, so they're accountable for their results.
That then rolls up to the team leader, that rolls up to the manager, which rolls up to the Vice President. So in our organization, no one can say, ‘oh, it's that person or that team's responsibility’. It rolls up and down to everyone.
Try to think about all the different layers of the organization and how to touch each of them, because I think that also helps ensure building that culture that everyone feels accountable for.