Agnese Spona is super passionate about her job as a customer experience education expert. Currently the managing director at MadeFor, the Latvian native facilitates learning experiences to boost people’s career growth in the ever-changing digital world. So who better to get tips from about entering the CX field?
When Agnese isn’t helping people stay competitive – whether in customer experience, service design, UX or digital product management – the Netherlands-based professional loves spending time with her family and sings in a choir.
Here are some snippets from the conversation we had about everything from defeating crazy monsters to how CX has a predicted expansion rate of up to 20% in the next five or so years.
CX is the combination of all interactions a customer has with a brand, Agnese explains. Perhaps they first hear about it from a friend? Then they see a pop-up ad on Instagram before moving onto the company’s e-commerce sites. Next they pay for the product, talk about the experience with other friends, and so on.
“All these touchpoints are customer experience,” says Agnese.
The CX education expert explains that the customer has the power to break this journey at any moment and influence much bigger groups through social media. They can have a large impact by sharing, for example, about how they had a negative experience with the company. As a result, brands want to have more visibility, understanding and a say on how that experience is managed.
There’s not one skill set that can cater to all the requirements of a customer experience strategy, Agnese points out.
“It’s the whole business that needs to actually deliver it, working from various departments and disciplines,” she says. “More and more organisations understand that there has to be something to oversee that overarching journey.”
This is a customer experience professional in a nutshell: someone who understands what that is and how it’s all built out.
The customer experience industry is booming, explains Agnese. “There have been incredible investments in CX recently,” she says. “Companies are planning to invest more than 600 billion US dollars in customer experience technology this year. And there’s a prediction of around 15% to 20% growth in CX in the upcoming five to seven years.”
This is linked to the fact that the customer has more choice nowadays, Agnese points out. “They’re no longer bound by geography or specific brands, so they become a big, big part of business for stakeholders.”
And, with this increase in interest in customer experience, a lot more CX learning is required. “There’s a huge demand for professionals who can do the thing,” says Agnese.
Often, says Agnese, there’s just one customer experience manager in a whole business. She describes this person as being in an “incredibly unfortunate situation, because they have to go and talk to all these departments that have established ways of working and their own belief systems.”
“It’s almost like a beggar’s position,” says Agnese. “The person has to go and ask for help to do research, understand the customer needs, map the customer journey and so on.”
The main issue with this is that it’s hard to get buy-in from the different departments. It’s difficult for just one person to ensure people start paying attention to the customer, reshape their propositions and tone of voice for marketing, or anything else that other staff already have very established and strong beliefs about.
As a solution, Agnese suggests that the organisation as a whole needs to fully understand the experience they want to deliver and then figure out – together – what this means for each separate department.
Figure out how you as an individual, in your current role or current job, currently contribute to the overall customer experience in your organisation, says Agnese.
“See if there’s something from a CX point of view that you can do already,” she suggests.
Say you’re a product owner. One of the critical questions Agnese believes you should ask is “What value or outcome will this feature I’m working on bring to the customer?”
Thinking in this way helps you to understand your job with a value-driven frame of mind so that you can start to see the CX-related gaps in your organisation.
After you make that first leap into thinking about your role from a customer experience point of view, Agnese suggests asking yourself these questions:
Then take it from there, says Agnese, pointing out that not every part of your role will tie in with CX.
If you want to delve further into customer experience, however, perhaps outside of your current job, Agnese suggests investigating how you can push your learnings by thinking about the whole experience the customer has with your company. See what other touchpoints you might be interested in expanding into. This will help you figure out what’s next for you, career wise, and help you take the right track towards achieving your goals.
“It’s an agile, experimental way of approaching your own learning journey,” says Agnese.
There are a few roadblocks when it comes to kicking off a move into customer experience, says Agnese. One is that CX is relatively new, so people aren’t sure how necessary it is. Another is that they’re not confident on how to sell to their manager that they need more education in this field. Another is that they don’t know how to start learning about CX.
“So there’s that kind of uncertainty or ‘newness’ element for CX that creates obstacles for learning,” Agnese explains.
Agnese points out that, if you’re committed to the business you work in, you’ll naturally already understand where your customers are struggling, where the company is losing revenue and which processes aren’t optimised.
She suggests taking a data point, tweaking it and experimenting with it to see if you can improve the organisation’s CX. Pick a pain point, she says, and begin to address it. It can have a groundbreaking impact on your organisation.
“Any growth will have pain, so when you pull that thread and at the end you find this crazy monster that you need to tackle, find the scissors and cut the thread so it goes away. It can be that simple,” says Agnes. “Or you can try and nourish it and turn it into a big fluffy bear. There are so many discoveries that you can make.”
Before you go into customer experience, define what it is for you and how you feel about it, Agnese suggests. What excites you and makes you get goosebumps about it? Then you can really figure out what aspect you want to follow or what stand you want to take in the industry.
“When we think about the value for the customer, if it only aligns with the business needs, it’s not fully there yet even if the customer experience is delivered seamlessly in a traditional way,” Agnese points out.
She gives the example of Tony’s Chocolonely. The Dutch confectionery brand – known for its ethics – has a banner with a chocolate on it that says “I am bad for your health. Consume me consciously”. Despite it perhaps being anti-commercial from a business point of view, this adds value for the customer, says Agnese.
“I would probe any customer experience professional to, again, think about that value for customers,” says Agnese. “What value are you bringing in this business for this specific human?”
As an example, she refers to how it’s critical for companies to empower sales agents to make decisions outside of protocol.
“We hear a lot of Zappos – how amazing their customer service is – but it’s mainly because their customer service representatives have that power to stay on a calls longer, make decisions, and send gifts or fun things to customers to make that experience delightful,” Agnese points out.
And it’s not always about just being delightful but understanding what is needed for that person, she explains. If someone is upset with a product that they ordered and it won’t make a big impact on your revenues, why not tell them that they don’t need to return it but will still get their refund?
The value you’ll bring for that customer is not only about the refund and the customer experience from the brand perspective, but it’s also that you truly listened to what that person wanted in that moment.
We need to move beyond the idea of ‘customer’ and go into more of a ‘human’ approach, Agnese explains.
Voila: everything you needed to know about learning CX. Well, not exactly everything – there are way more insights in my podcast episode with Agnese.
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