2020 went down in history as the year the world came to a complete stop; 2021 will be known as the year that we re-wrote the playbook.
A nicely aspirational summation from Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith as he kicked off the firm’s Work Different event this week, but it was his next claim that caught my attention:
Experience Design is not a story of the pandemic - the pandemic has simply helped highlight the way organizations will win moving forward, by designing new experiences, then continuously improving them. Not only do you need a technology platform that makes it all possible, but you need a system that turns it into a core competency and daily routine.
That platform was bolstered yesterday with the introduction of XM/OS, described by Qualtrics as “a single, secure cloud-native platform that enables companies to bring together all of their experience data, analyze it, and easily take action”. There are three main components:
- XM Directory - which centralizes customer and employee feedback data and creates a unique profile that remembers each individual’s needs and preferences.
- iQ - an AI-powered analytics suite that automatically analyzes experience data within XM/OS and proactively surfaces opportunities for improvement, trends, or breakdowns in the customer or employee journey.
- xFlow - a low code/no-code workflow engine that offers 130 out-of-the-box connections with companies like SAP, Slack, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Microsoft Teams and Zendesk.
XM/OS is essentially pitched as the proverbial ‘one stop shop’ for Experience Management, something that is particularly needed for the Vaccine Economy, according to CEO Zig Serafin:
The pandemic turned just about everyone's life upside down and there wasn't a series of best practice guidelines or corporate trainings that prepared any of us for what we experienced this past year…There are two things that set companies apart during the pandemic. First, was the ability to rapidly design the products and experiences that people want and need right now. Second, was the ability to continuously improve each of those experiences to the point where they set the standard, and they become customers and employees first choice...You have to have both.
That’s the theory then, but what’s the reality out on the ‘front line’ among actual users? A number of end user organizations took part in Work Different, each providing their own testimonies to back up Serafin’s argument.
For example, Volkswagen in Australia found that its network of dealerships ground to an operational halt due to COVID lockdowns. The firm had no online sales capability to address this initially, but in the space of 14 days delivered a full-service digital offering to allow customers to buy or trade-in a car - or even just arrange for a vehicle to be serviced - remotely.
The first step in this process was to understand what users of this new service were likely to need from it, explained Jason Bradshaw, Chief Marketing and Customer Officer from Volkswagen Group Australia. This was done using Qualtrics platform, he said:
We were able to very quickly put into the marketplace a survey to understand the evolving needs and desires of our customers. The very first thing that we did was understand that our customers were willing to purchase a new car online.
Experience Management is critical for success, argued Bradshaw:
It's about enabling the business to make strategic decisions, informed by data. That's really what the XM/OS gives us at Volkswagen…We’re able to make decisions in real-time, backed by customer data, brand and product data and employee data that really enables us to move quicker and more nimbly than competitors. It's why, based on the data from our Product Experience research, we were able to increase our sales by 300%, literally overnight.
Fourteen days seems a very quick turnaround time, but this was the timeframe for delivery, he recalled:
I think that's really key - we design something really quickly, based on customer feedback, and then over the course of the year, we continue to improve and evolve that platform based on ongoing customer feedback. It wasn't a case of just ask the customer once and then hope that we've got it right. We continually evolved our program of work last year based on a lot more timely response to customer feedback.
An important learning for Volkswagen has been that it’s not necessary to sit down and spend three months designing and mapping out a customer journey or an employee journey:
Essentially what you need to do is create a habit of finding the one percent, the little things that you can improve every day. It starts by looking at the day-to-day. How often do senior executives sit in a boardroom where they get a monthly report on something? Customers are living in a very different world to that. They tell us every single day what they love and what they don't love.
The trick is to focus on continuous, incremental improvement, Bradshaw advised:
The key to improving is just every day looking at the data and going, ’There is something I can improve' and creating that habit of, 'Today I'm going to improve one thing'. It might only be improved by one percent, but over six years those one percents considerably add up. So instead of trying to get large, extensive data sets over a 12 month period, let's look at smaller data sets and design and evolve, design and improve over time, on a continuous listening approach. As opposed to trying to have that silver bullet at the end of each year that we're going to [use to] solve this one big problem, let’s continue to focus on those ‘one percenters’ so that we can have a seven and eight year continuous improvement.
Shopping for loyalty
Meanwhile at grocery chain Albertsons, the firm has benefitted from the rapid shift to online shopping sparked by the pandemic. The trick now, as lockdowns are lifted, is to hang on to the new wave of customers, a task partly in the remit of Jonathan Nouri, SVP of Loyalty at Albertsons, who’s been using Qualtrics tech to understand shopper behaviorial trends:
The most surprising insight for me was that people went to an average of four to five different stores in order to get what they needed at home. When I dug deeper and looked into the motivations behind doing that, it was really about selection experience and their affinity for a brand, not necessarily all driven on price. That made me think we had to focus more on behavioral and emotional loyalty, rather than just transactional loyalty, which is focused solely on price and discounts. It made me really start to think about the in-store and the digital experience more and more and how important that was.
Retention is top of my mind every single day - how do we retain all of the customers that we had before this and all the new customers that we got during this time? One of the keys to retaining all of these customers is creating a really seamless, integrated experience, regardless of the channel that you're shopping with us, whether it's in store, through our drive-up-and-go product or through our first party delivery product. I think that is what will keep people coming back to us.
To that end the firm is about to roll out a new unified mobile application:
It really enables that omni-channel shopping experience. In addition to that, it's going to make loyalty an immersive part of the shopping experience, from before you start thinking of shopping, to creating your list to executing the actual order, to post-shopping and rewards. You will see a completely re-designed program that will offer additional benefits to our members, especially the ones that engage with us the most, as well as doubling down on some current partnerships we have, while working with other partners to engage with our members outside of the grocery shopping experience.
Albertsons employee experience is also a major priority, Nouri added, as this will inevitably be an influential factor in creating positive customer experiences. With that in mind, the retailer wants to be able to pick up on good employee performance and recognize it. This means making sure that every opportunity is in place to capture customer feedback as soon as it’s available:
As I looked at the data we had and how I wanted to get more data about how our customers were feeling about us, I thought about the customer journey, and at what points in that journey was it easiest for the customer to give us the feedback. A lion's share of our customers will shop with us directly in our bricks-and-mortar stores, so giving customers the ability to give us feedback directly on the [checkout] pinpad was something that we decided to do a couple of months ago. We are piloting right now [capabilities] to record that, so we're able to recognize that associate later that day or the next day and thank them for the great customer experience that they're delivering.
Another firm that’s ‘had a good war’ during the COVID crisis is Uber Eats, which has seen its operating remit expand to meet consumer demand for delivery services of more than just takeaway food. Steve Wengrovitz, Head of Research, Uber Eats, explained:
The whole DNA of the company has pretty much changed in the last year. Uber Eats until fairly recently had been mostly about kind of getting meals from restaurants brought to you, but we're increasingly thinking about different verticals, from grocery to pharmacies, even alcohol.
There's this 'get side', where you can get lots of different things brought to you, rather than you having to go somewhere. So thinking about both the ‘get’ and the ‘go’ side together is really two parts of a core product that’s now Uber. Before the pandemic, it was mostly on the ‘go’ side, but the growth that we've seen on the ‘get’ side [means it] is really now equal balanced parts of the business.
The firm now has a Chief Product Officer looking at the product experience across the entire ‘go’ and ‘get’ aspects and the company is exploring ways that its products can synergize back and forth, said Wengrovitz, which is where Experience Management tech comes in:
Some of it is about going out and asking users what they want or what their current behaviors are, but we actually have a lot more tools in our toolkit that we can use. Some of these include foresight training that we've been doing with our design and our product partners, helping them think a little bit about what does it look like when we see these different trends that are going on? When they start overlapping together, what does that actually mean for our business? What does that mean for what our future products should look like?
A major change he’s observed is around how Uber Eats thinks about time frames:
A good example of this is the grocery space, making it possible to get deliveries of groceries, not just Thai food from from your local Thai restaurant. Accelerating the pace of building a grocery product is really important to us. We have our short term roadmap of what we need to build there in order to make grocery more available to people, but increasingly we're starting to think about a longer and bigger time horizon.
Then, of course, on the product side, there's a lot we can do to help restaurants and merchants drive their own business. When we talk to restaurants, a lot of the things that we hear from them, in terms of how we can help them work, is by giving them more tools to drive their business. Everything from tools in the marketing toolkit - from advertising to running offers or promotions - to getting customer insights and understanding how do we give them actionable data where they can see how people are ordering, what are the types of dishes that they ordered together, so that they can actually make some smarter business decisions for themselves.