If you follow me on Twitter, it would not have escaped your notice that last week played host to the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards. It is an event that has firmly established itself in the annual ‘do not miss it’ calendar! I am proud to say that I have been involved with the awards every year since their inception in 2010. As an entrant, winner, judge and award presenter, I believe that Neil Skehel and his team have had a significant influence in evolving the UKs understanding of the ever increasing focus on Customer Experience across all sectors.
The success of the awards has led to the necessity for them to be held in venues that are bigger and better. It was therefore with great excitement that I approached the Excel Arena in London’s Docklands early last Thursday morning. I use the ‘excitement’ word genuinely – every year I continue to be astounded and inspired by the passion, enthusiasm, innovation and incredible acts of influence that organisations of all shapes and sizes share with the panels of judges. The 2014 awards did not disappoint.
The list of organisations entering this years awards reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the business world – yet the names are becoming ever more diverse. From Standard Life, Barclays, Nationwide and Virgin Money to golfbreaks.com, wowcher, Just Eat and Trip Advisor to Northern Gas Networks, Balfour Beatty and NPower. The UK Customer Experience Awards is for any organisation wishing to share the amazing things they have done in the last twelve months to genuinely put customers at the heart of everything they do.
On entering the longest corridor in the world (honestly – if you have never seen the corridor at the Excel Arena – you need to!! It is three-quarters of a mile long!!) I wondered what my key learning’s for 2014 would be. If you are interested to know, I am about to share them with you….
It goes without saying that every organisation who entered the awards this year were proud of the things they had achieved in improving experiences for customers. Pride oozed out of every attendee as they paced up and down corridors, huddled nervously around cups of coffee and bustled in and out of rooms along the longest corridor in the world! Proud they should be. Every single member of every single team who played a part in continuing to improve their respective organisations are proving on a daily basis how important it is to become ever more customer centric.
With pride almost taken as given, it occurred to me this year that there is another vital attribute that is required to sit alongside pride – that attribute is BELIEF. Everyone that presented to me; everyone that I spoke to; everyone who accepted an award – they all shared a common attribute – they all BELIEVED passionately in the things they had done. Their absolute belief in doing the right thing – for customers, colleagues and shareholders is what has led all of them to be worthy recipients of recognition. Only a few received the beautiful looking trophies on Thursday afternoon – yet this is not a reflection of the achievements of everyone that participated.
To help organisations continually get better and better at delivering experiences for customers, it is vital that the professionals guiding and leading those organisations are passionate in their BELIEF that it works. We have all struggled to convince sceptics who think that customer experience is the soft, fluffy theoretical thing that has no effect on the bottom line. If only those sceptics could have sat in on the dozens of presentations delivered last week. The great news is that the BELIEF in customer experience is not diminishing – it is growing – every year – and that leads me nicely on to my next learning….
As I have already alluded – the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards were the biggest ever. At this rate, Neil will need to hire Wembley Stadium to host the awards by 2016! The awards are evolving at the same rate as the world around us. This is the first year where I have noticed the significant increase in pure play online businesses. It was also noticeable how the number of organisations that many may never have heard of has increased, including companies in the B2B space.
This is further demonstration to ALL businesses in the UK that the Customer Experience revolution has already happened! More and more organisations are now realigning their business strategies to INCLUDE customer experience strategies. More and more companies are recognising that the best and sometimes only way to differentiate in the world we now live in is through the end to end experience – not just the product or service. It is wonderful to see…..and long may it continue.
The best demonstration of this growth was in the surprise package of the day – an organisation that the majority of consumers will not have heard of – including many of you reading this. One company won 6 (six) UK Customer Experience Awards on Thursday – that company is Northern Gas Networks. Their wonderful list of wins is as follows:
- Overall Best Customer Experience Award
- UK Customer Experience Award for Professional & Government Services & Utilities
- UK Customer Experience Award for Business Change or Transformation – Simplification
- UK Customer Experience Award for a Small Contact Centre
- UK Customer Experience Award for Employee Engagement – Taking the Lead
- UK Customer Experience Team of the Year – Customers at the Heart
Winning six awards on any day is an amazing achievement. When you consider what Northern Gas Network’s do – it is even more remarkable. I am being rather rude to describe what they do as ‘putting pipes in the ground’ – but that is essentially what they do! Northern Gas Networks is a company who transport the gas that we buy from our utility companies. Could you envisage your utility company winning six UK Customer Experience Awards? NGN are an example to any business – it does not matter what you do or who you are – Customer Experience applies to ANY business. A huge congratulations to their entire team.
My final learning from the day is one that NGN should heed – although from the looks of it, there will be absolutely no issue doing so. Many of the companies entering and winning awards on Thursday were doing so for the first time. However the real challenge for every business witnessing the awards ceremony is to ensure that it would absolutely not be the last time. In 2010, I was incredibly lucky to lead the team that won a first UK Customer Experience Award for Shop Direct Group. In 2011 I was humbled to see a member of my team win an award for Young UK Customer Experience Professional of the Year. Since I have moved on from the company now known simply as Shop Direct, the focus on Customer Experience has continued to evolve and intensify.
On Thursday, I sat at a table with some of my ex colleagues and witnessed them win yet another UK Customer Experience Award. It felt as exciting for me as the first time in 2010 – and I do not even work for them any more!!! It is exciting because Shop Direct are a living breathing demonstration of SUSTAINABILITY of Customer Experience. A focus that started many years ago has remained so. Shop Direct will never be finished with their customer experience ‘project’ – because it is not a project – it is in their DNA. The key for every business involved in the UK Customer Experience Awards is to achieve the magic of SUSTAINABILITY.
I do not expect NGN to come back in 2015 and win another 6 awards – although they may prove me wrong! As long as they do come back – that is the point. As long as Customer Experience remains a strategic focus – now and forever, the real winner are their customers. In fact the real winner from the whole awards process are the millions of customers served by the companies who participated – we; us; the poor undervalued customer are finally getting the recognition we deserve – although there is still a long way to go!!
So there we have it – BELIEF, GROWTH and SUSTAINABILITY – three words to sum up the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards. You can find a list of all the winners and finalists here. If you want to know more about NGN, have a look here.
My final thoughts are as follows. There are still a number of sceptical, non believing, ignorant leaders of business all over the UK – in fact all over the world when it comes to recognising the positive effect improving the Customer Experience can have on the financial performance of a business. These are the ‘it all sounds nice but so what’ brigade. On Thursday, the only disappointment for me was the realisation that so few senior leaders of the companies involved were present at the ceremony. It is such a shame – and something that needs to change quickly. Even Michael O’Leary, the infamous CEO of Ryanair admitted this week that improving the Customer Experience had a positive effect on the financial performance of his business – maybe we will see their first ever entry in the 2015 UK Customer Experience Awards!!