Guest Post: Nespresso’s Secret Brew to Building a Customer-Centric Business

November 10, 2021

Featuring CS Hero Michela Cocco, Global Customer Experience & Innovation Manager at Nespresso

Welcome back to our “Customer Service Heroes” series, where we invite inspiring customer service leaders to share their advice for running successful teams. 

Michela Cocco is the Global Customer Experience & Innovation Manager at Nespresso. Nespresso is an operating unit of Nestlé Group, providing coffee, brewing machines, and services to coffee lovers around the world. Cocco oversees the design experience of new products, devising strategies to encourage “members” (as Nespresso refers to customers) to interact with different brand touchpoints, discover new products, and remain loyal to the Nespresso brand name.

At Nespresso, I’m responsible for integrating customer service projects and strategies into the innovation and product development process. It’s a unique role, with two sides to it: Customer experience and innovation. When we develop new products and new services for our customers, it’s not enough to deliver a beautiful, highly technological machine or excellent coffee. What we need to offer is a full experience, a full ecosystem, throughout the entire customer journey.

While I’m not a traditional customer support agent or manager, every team member at Nespresso is responsible for customer service and experience, to some degree. It’s all part of a larger business strategy to integrate customer experience governance into our organization and ensure that every decision we make is customer-focused.

How would you define the customer experience, and what is customer experience governance?

According to Ilenia Vidili’s “Journey to Centricity,” the customer experience is the perception that every individual customer has of a brand across all stages of their interaction — pre-purchase, during purchase, and post-purchase. If their experience is positive, it will lead to customer loyalty. A negative experience, however, will likely cause customer churn and worse retention rates.

I would agree with this interpretation, and I’d like to emphasize that it hinges on a very specific element: Your customers’ feelings. Alone, innovation isn’t the answer: To build a truly customer-centric experience, you need to focus on a long-term strategy that will ensure consumers feel how you want them to feel when they interact with your brand across all touchpoints of the customer journey.

Too many businesses today build a strategic roadmap that stems from internal priorities or assumptions about what customers want, rather than customer feedback or customer behavior. But for a company to be truly customer-centric, all decisions about product development and design must track back to established customer needs. 

Ultimately, it’s what customer-centric means: Understanding customer situations, perceptions, and expectations at all levels of an organization. To carefully craft a customer-centric strategy, companies need to invest time and resources upfront into uncovering their customer base’s needs, gathering customer data and customer insights, and analyzing the impact of different products and services before diving too deep into any particular project.

Customer experience governance turns this idea into an actionable framework, with established processes, deliverables, and clearly assigned roles throughout the organization. The end goal is for customer experience to be integrated into the fabric of every part of the organization, instead of being relegated to silos within individual departments or projects.

The three pillars of customer-centricity

A customer-centric business model is built on three core pillars:

  • Company culture: Each company might be at a different stage of the customer-centric journey — but ultimately, customer-focused culture is a matter of mindset: It needs to be nurtured. Everyone at every level of the company should become “customer-centric,” even if they have never heard of CX before. It’s an agile transformation that can start with something as simple as making every employee regularly go to the point of sale to listen to customers, or having assessments in place for new hires to measure their customer-centricity.  

  • Technology: While investing millions in new technology might not always be feasible, legacy systems can be a huge obstacle to customer-centricity. If your systems aren’t upgraded and you aren’t willing to invest in innovation, your designs will be hindered by technical constraints; without the right tools, you won’t be able to craft them according to new customer needs and trends, or adapt them to offer the best customer experience. Instead, you’ll have to compromise on the CX.

  • The organization itself: The organization shouldn’t be siloed. Product, Brand, Communication, and Operations might live in different departments, but in order to achieve true customer success, there needs to be a link, someone who can represent the customer throughout the process and foster cross-functionality.

Bringing customer-centricity to your organization

Building a customer-centric organization and adhering to a customer experience governance framework is easier said than done. For organizations that don’t already have a governance framework in place, my advice is that it’s best to start small. 

Any department can be the first to adopt a customer-centric mindset on a single project level. In product development, for example, this could mean testing a new approach to the product roadmap structure. Product roadmaps typically forecast costs and revenues. But with a customer-centric approach, the product team may also integrate Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and customer satisfaction scores into each project, to gauge how customers will respond to each product decision. With a new structure in place, the team may approach its next project by first interviewing customers to understand their needs and current experience gaps and executing shadowing sessions, before building a financial forecast and development timeline. 

Once a single customer-centric project is executed, the team can report takeaways from the process and the project results back to key stakeholders within the organization. Using that test project as a proof point, if successful, can make it easier to garner buy-in from key stakeholders within the organization. 

With enough momentum from these one-off customer-centric projects — and executive support — you can look to create organization-wide change, fostering a customer-centric culture. That’s when the real work begins. To truly commit to this new approach, organizations need to build the customer experience governance framework by assigning ownership and putting standards and practices in place officially. This may include scheduling standing operational meetings, hiring for new roles, documenting practices and processes, introducing new ways of working or human-centered methodologies, and more. 

Measuring success as a customer-centric organization

When making a shift toward becoming a customer-centric company, your team structure and KPIs may look different than they did before. Some sure signs that you’re on your way toward becoming a truly customer-centric organization may include the following:

  • Your organization has a documented CX plan, including objectives, initiatives, and organization-wide KPIs.

  • Your organization appointed a Chief Customer Officer, or someone with a similar title, who is specifically responsible for shaping, managing, and adhering to that CX plan.

  • Customer KPIs — and the impact your initiative is bringing to customers — are used to prioritize the IT development roadmap

  • Employees throughout the organization understand basic customer experience metrics, like NPS, and track them regularly, regardless of what department they work in.

There are also a variety of metrics beyond NPS that organizations that aim to be truly customer-centric should pay attention to. These may include something like a Customer Effort Score — a measure of how difficult or easy it is for customers to use a product or complete certain actions — or things like Churn and Early Churn Rate. 

I think Early Churn Rate is especially important. Too many organizations invest heavily in acquiring new customers but forget to invest time, effort, and resources in nurturing those customers once they convert and creating ongoing brand loyalty. You can’t consider yourself a customer-first organization if your Early Churn Rate is a problem. It’s a sure sign that customers aren’t getting what they are looking for, there are unaddressed pain points, and ultimately your brand isn’t living up to expectations.

Customer experience governance in action

At Nespresso, one of our main priorities is ensuring that new members have a great brand experience. In taking a customer-centric approach to this goal, we first interviewed customers about their experience and then drilled down into specific questions about early brand touchpoints. Ultimately, we realized that some new members didn’t feel as welcomed by the brand as expected once they purchased Nespresso products. 

We researched different sides of this issue and came to the conclusion that it was a specific problem with customers who purchased online versus in-store. The online buying experience is vastly different from what you experience at a Nespresso boutique, where coffee experts personally walk you through the buying experience. In order to replicate that experience for online buyers, we had to create something that emphasized human experience and allowed members to share their preferences in the product selection process.

The result: A new digital welcome hub that features an interactive video experience. Within this new hub, customers can share their coffee preferences and tailor the video experience based on their real-time selections and feedback. The project was a huge lift from a development standpoint (we used the same interactive video technology that the popular Netflix series “Black Mirror” used), but it showcased Nespresso’s commitment to nurturing member relationships.

I believe any department within any organization can adopt the same mindset and adapt project processes to be executed in a customer-centric way. It all starts with one.

Interested in learning more about customer-centricity, or looking for practical tips to encourage customer focus in your business? Watch the full “Nespresso’s Secret Brew to Building a Customer-Centric Business” webinar now.

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