Simon chats with Isabella Villani, Company Director and Chief Customer Officer at Exceed Global.

Show Notes

Exceed Global is Australia’s leading CX Experience Firm. Exceed Global work with organisations helping to improve their customers experience right from the customer experience strategy all the way through to the execution.

You can contact Isabella Villani on LinkedIn.


Simon Dell: Welcome to the show, Isabella Villani, who is the boss… You’re no longer the CEO of Exceed Global, are you? But you’re still on the board and all those kind of things, so welcome to the show.

Isabella Villani: Thank you. Thank you very much for inviting me along, Simon. I’m really happy to be here.

Simon Dell: So just for everybody’s benefit, and we’ll talk about your book in a minute, can you give us a bit of an overview about who Exceed Global are and what you do there?

Isabella Villani: Exceed Global is a company I started back in 2011. We focus on customer experience, consulting, training, research, and we also do recruitment in this space as well. We work with large organizations to smaller organizations, and we help organizations improve customer experience all the way from their customer experience strategy to actually the execution and helping them really transform their business.

Simon Dell: And for the dumb people out there, of which I’m sure there will be some, explain what you mean by customer experience. Because obviously, both those words sound fairly descriptive, but what’s your perception of customer experience?

Isabella Villani: Customer experience is an interaction that a person would have with an organization. That could be in any channel or any medium. So, a customer experience is their perception of what it is like to interact with your business, what they think, what they feel, and how they go about doing that.

Simon Dell: And that could be anything from the way that people answer the phone, to their experience on the website, to walking into a store. It’s pretty much everything, isn’t it?

Isabella Villani: Exactly. So when we look at customer experience, we think of that omni-channel customer experience which is a seamless and consistent customer experience across all of those customer channels and touch points. Because from a customer’s perspective, they don’t see you in silos like, “This is our retail network, and this is our contact centre, and this is our digital team.” They integrate that whole experience into one, so that’s what we’re really focused on: educating our customers about that, and what their customers are thinking, and walking in their shoes, and then looking at how we actually make it easy for customers to do business.

Simon Dell: Now, the story as to how you’re on the show, I’m just going to impart to everybody out there. Because about three or four weeks ago, I was actually looking for a book on customer experience, on the customer journey, and those kind of things. And I was looking for it actually for ourselves, for myself and my business partner, and how we expand our business, but make sure that we maintain a level of customer experience through that expansion.

And I was sat in Dymocks or I stood in Dymocks. I was looking at the bookshelf there and they had these lovely green and white… In fact, there was lots of them there. So whoever your publisher is, they managed to do a good deal with Dymocks because you had a lot of visibility there on the shelf.

And I bought your book, and I read it within the first week, and I have, as I do, turned over lots of corners of pages. So I guess my first question for you would be: What on Earth made you want to write a book?

Isabella Villani: Maybe I’m a bit crazy, because ask anyone who’s written a book. I’m assuming you said green and white, so my second book, Transform Customer Experience. After the first one, I said, never again, I’m not going through all of this again. And then I just wanted to really make a difference, and I have stories to tell, and customer experience really isn’t a university degree that people can get a Bachelor of Customer Experience and go out there.

And the best way people learn is by telling stories. So, I really, really wanted to tell my stories. With Transform Customer Experience, I was very lucky. My publishing company is Wiley, and they picked me up as a CX author, and I’ve been very, very lucky. It’s in Dymocks. It’s in all the big book shops in a physical presence, which is really hard to get today, as well as all the online channels.

EBook, talking book, hard copy, you can get it in any way shape or form, which is really exciting for me. And even you contacting me and saying that you saw my book in Dymocks, I still get tingles down my spine when I walk into Dymocks and check to see if the book is still stocked in there.

But I just really wanted to make a difference in customer experience. And in this book, I’d spoken to other CX professionals around the world, and they were happy to contribute their stories as well, the good, the bad, the ugly. And I think that you go to a lot of conferences and presentations, which is where most people learn about CX.

They often tell you the happy path, the happy story, and I think it’s really important to understand that no one does CX perfectly well. Everyone’s transforming and on an evolutionary process. And the best way to learn is from your own mistakes, but it’s even better for you if you learn from other people’s mistakes or learning.

And the point of the book as well, Simon, was to be a hands-on book, so a book that has, “Here’s how you do a customer journey map.” When you’re looking at reporting around customer experience, are you really making it different? You need to think about lead and lag indicating data, and here’s some examples of that. So I really, really wanted to have a book out there that people could use as a how-to guide, and one that was really, really easy to read.

So, my background is speech pathology, and I understand about comprehension. So, you don’t have to be a CEO of a large organization with a master’s degree to be able to understand and apply the principles in the book, and that was really important to me, Me that the local cafe owner all the way through to a large corporate could pick up the book and get something out of it.

Simon Dell: And I’ve already got a lot out of it ourselves for our business, but I actually used some of the modelling that you did with customer journeying on Monday with a client of ours. And we often actually do customer journey in a digital space with clients, and some of the things that you put in there actually really helped us drill down a bit more on certain touch points that were important to the customers of our clients.

So, I’ve got a lot out of it. And I obviously thoroughly recommend it. I guess before we actually dive into it, because there’s obviously some things I want, some really cool lessons out of it that I think people would appreciate: Do you stand in Dymocks and point the book out to people? That’s because I know if I had a hard copy, I would do that.

Isabella Villani: If you check out my Instagram or Facebook pages, I’m still in awe. I still find it surreal that my book’s there in all of these bookshops. Particularly, I travel a lot, and they’re in the airports as well. And so, when I go there, I timidly go up to the counter and say, “Hey, this is my book. Would you like me to sign some copies for you because I’m in the area?”

And you know, they take photos of me. I’ve written in all the books and they put these stickers on it. So, I do feel a little bit like a celebrity, but I’m the same person I was before the book got published. So, it is an amazing thing. And hearing your story around customer journey mapping now, you mentioned a key thing and I put that in the book, that the end product, the deliverable, the map is excellent and that’s fantastic. But it’s equally as important the process that people go through to develop the journey map.

If you really want to take your people, your staff, your clients on a CX journey, you really need them to start walking in the shoes of their customers, and start feeling those pains, and stop thinking about all the processes, and the silos, and the departments, and the business rules, and the regulatory obligations behind it all, and actually go from a customer’s perspective, what do they see? So, I’m glad to hear you got a lot out of the workshop, so I think that’s equally as important and you should never discount the importance of creating a map as the map itself.

Simon Dell: I wanted to talk about the first — the first thing that I actually underlined when I open your book, which is actually on page number one, chapter number one, was the story about Reed Hastings and about why he founded Blockbuster. And perhaps if you can tell us that story, and I think — do you still see a lot of that kind of activity where businesses are finding their customers for things that they shouldn’t be finding them for?

Isabella Villani: We get an idea of what our customers want, but we don’t necessarily know unless we ask them and we do a lot of research. And customer experience is evolving so rapidly, you never really quite know what it is that you’re doing, or what they’re going to embark on. For example, with customers, they’re unique beings and they are very clear about what they’re wanting, what they hope to get out of the customer experience, or their product or service. But you cannot do as much market research as you like.

But they don’t even know what they want to ask. You can turn around and say, “I’ll give you blabla. Is that something you’d like?” And then they’d go, “Yeah, that’s exactly something that I want.” But in actual fact, it’s not to — I suppose not sure they actually think about it, or you give them something and go, “Hey, that’s even better than I wanted. I didn’t even know that that was possible.”

So, a lot of organizations evolved, and those organizations that are doing well… And you mentioned my case study about Reed Hastings and Blockbuster. That was amazing. He didn’t had that great experience about Blockbuster and he went, “I can do better than this. I’m going to look at doing something else.” He got still annoyed by that late fee that he started Netflix.

If you think about that, the Foxtels of the world and all of those organizations like Blockbuster’s, you would never, ever think they’d go away. It was like Kodak never thought that there’d be no more film and we’d move into digitalisation. So, a lot of organizations, Yellow Pages is another example of that, where someone really moved their cheese and they’ve had to work out: What is our offering and how do we change with the times?

I think customer experience is moving so rapidly, you have to stay connected with your customers, and stay up to date with what they want. Because otherwise, they’ll go somewhere else and get what they need elsewhere.

Simon Dell: One of the quotes I underlined in that first chapter as well was — I will read it, but it says, “When customers are dealing with an organization, they’re not only comparing it with its direct competitors. They’re comparing it to every other interaction they’ve had with any other organization they’ve dealt with.” And I think that’s a massively important point there.

Your customers aren’t comparing you just with your competitors. They have leaned to an Apple store and they know what the customer service of an Apple store is like. Now, they’re expecting everybody else to be like that.

Isabella Villani: Very true. And if they’re paying a bill, they’re going to compare paying a bill to someone else. Or if they can access account information online with a similar sort of product or service, they expect that. And the irony of it all is for example, let’s just give an example of a utility. They may compare each other against another utility, but in actual fact, unless that customer has turned, they actually don’t know what that other experience is going to be like with the utility.

In actual fact, they’re more likely to compare their product, the product or service, or what they’re getting, with something that’s similar out there with a complete transaction, or service, or product that may be similar but not exactly the same. So, I think a lot of organizations get complacent because they think, “Oh yeah, this organization is compared against our competitor.” And the other thing that organizations do on that topic, Simon, is they consider the competitor, at that moment in time, and they don’t realize that transformation’s a journey.

If you’re going to launch a new digital app, it’s going to take a week, a month, a year. So actually, when they’re comparing themselves about their competitors in that moment in life, they don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeve and what’s to come.

Simon Dell: There’s another great point that you made early on which talks about the reason for retaining customers and the reason for working so hard to retain customers. Retaining customers is immensely more profitable than trying to find new customers, which I think everybody understands. Maybe people don’t understand, but the figures that you use there to say that retaining 5% of your customers could lift your profit between 25% and 95%, that’s a huge number.

Isabella Villani: We seem to be doing a lot of work of enticing new customers, offers for new customers. And I think we get really complacent with our customers that have been loyal, and haven’t turned, and have paid on time every month for the past five or six years. And they’re great customers to have. That’s how you build your business. So, acquiring new customers and offering a special offer to someone who joins if they’re are new customer, imagine how you feel if you’re an existing loyal customer and you are not offered that same price or that same deal.

That’s actually happening a lot more now. So, people are becoming less loyal because they know if they turn, they’ll get a better offer. I don’t know if you’ve done it, but I’ve called up my insurance company every single time I get any renewal letter in the mail. I always make time to make that five-minute phone call to say, “I’m looking at leaving.” And their retention teams do a great job in retaining me. However, they end up offering me a significant discount if I stay.

And I get quite annoyed, because I think, “Why do I have to call you to get that discount? Why can’t you just offer me that for my loyalty?” It’s almost like they’re cheeky and they want to try to get away with it if they can. And they’re lucky because I’ll give him a chance to say, “Hey, I want to stay with you.” But I’m almost tempted the next year when the renewal letter comes, to look around and shop around, and actually leave.

Simon Dell: And I guess you mentioned a company earlier on, Foxtel. I mean, Foxtel have been very guilty of that for a long time. And I think, again, with the arrival of the Netflixes and the Stans of this world, they’re under a lot more pressure. And I did exactly that two months ago and rang them up and got a better price, but I sat there and went, “Why does it have to resort to me calling you to get that better price?”

Isabella Villani: We as customers are becoming far more savvy, more educated now. We know a lot more what’s going on because we’re far more social, and we hear what’s going on, and they’re demanding a better customer experience. A lot of organizations really need to step up to the plate or they will lose these customers.

So ironically, I’ve never had a Foxtel account but I have a Stan and a Netflix account because I like the flexibility that they offer. They’re easy to use, and I can stick around, particularly when I’m traveling. I’ve got access to it everywhere. I know Foxtel’s got Foxtel GO, but I’ve actually never looked at Foxtel because I’ve gone with Netflix instead.

And being a CX expert, I bank with every bank. I turn frequently from different services because I actually want to know what it’s like to have a customer experience with different companies. Because I think if I’m going to talk about it, I at least need to have more — as much practical experience as I can. So, I love shopping online. I love shopping face to face. I’m such a consumer, because I really look at customer experience in the services that are provided.

Simon Dell: I only have Foxtel because of my wife.

Isabella Villani: But I’m probably your worst customer…

Simon Dell: No. I only have Foxtel because my wife insists of watching some very strange reality shows and things like that. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have it as well. In that area, one of the other things that I thought was really interesting, you talk about a car service company, the example that you used, where a fourth-year customer worth almost four times as much the business as a first-year customer.

And this is one of those things I try and drum into in our clients to say, “Even if your acquisition of a customer is actually profit negative or even potentially making a loss on the acquisition, if you keep customers for a long time, they become very profitable later on.”

Isabella Villani: They do. They become profitable later on because they’ll give you repeat business. And generally speaking, if they hang around with you, they’re also going to become great referrers for you. So, not only are they profitable, they then become that great referral network. And generally speaking, if you’re with a company for a long time, you usually… And this sounds bizarre to say this, but you’re usually low maintenance.

But if you think about when you’ve left an organization foam, and you’ve probably left because you’re not happy, because some thing’s triggered you to leave, and you’ve probably called a lot, and complained a lot, or done whatever you can, if you’re passionate about staying with that company.

So, I always call a set of customers that set and forget. They pay their bill on time every time. They’re very loyal. They don’t shop around. And marketers will hate to hear this, and this is a really big conundrum for a marketer: Sometimes, you’re better to set and forget and leave them alone. Because if you remind them that you exist, they may start going, “Oh, really? Well, if you’re trying to tell me how good you, are you that good? I might actually look around now.”

I did some work for a charity for example. They wanted to do a thank-you campaign for regular givers. I said, “I don’t know if you’re going to like that because you’re going to remind them you exist. Particularly, it’s around tax time and they’re starting to pinch pennies, and they may donate more but they may not.”

And in actual fact, they had that thing where people were going, “I don’t actually want this. Thank you call. How much did it cost you to pay someone to make this thank-you call? I’d rather you have given that money to support the charity that I am paying you to support and to do your great work.”

That was really interesting, this charity have a lot of turn, and also had disgruntled a regular giver to have gone, “Stop wasting money calling me to say thank you. I don’t need a thank you. I like to know that you’re helping, and doing, and making a difference on my behalf.”

Simon Dell: There was an exercise that I saw in the book about segmenting customers by value. And it’s something that I sat there and went, “You know what? We need to do that.” And it’s the classic 80/20 rule, that 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your customers. But can you just talk about the groups within that, the people that, when you talk about them, people might actually kind of identify their own customers in those groups?

Isabella Villani: Yeah. Sure. Look, you can segment customers in a variety of ways. And the example you gave there around high-net-worth customers is, if you have got customers that are extremely valuable to your business and fit into that 80/20 rule, you really want to show them extra love, attention, consideration.

My whole point in the chapter around segmentation is, a one-size-fits-all for customer experience isn’t necessarily the answer. If you’re having customers that aren’t providing you as much value or profit, do you want to spend as much or equal as much as time as those other customers who are looking after you, and supporting your business, and growing with you, and are loyal to you, and all of those other factors?

So just my little caveat here is, I don’t think you should segment customers by customer value only, because there could be potential value or there could be other reasons why you choose to treat customers different. But my biggest point around that section of the book is around providing a personalized customer experience, so actually thinking about that customer type and how can you deliver a great customer experience for them.

Simon Dell: And one of the things you talk about there is creating customer personas, which again, is for us, is when we start a strategy session with a client, it’s normally one of our first steps, at least. Explain to people out there what a customer persona is and why it’s important that people need to know what they are.

Isabella Villani: A customer persona is a customer segment that you pretty much personify and bring to life. For example, if you’re a utility, you might have a range of customers, so residential, small business. And within residential, you might have customers that are an older demographic, a couple with young children, a couple due to retire, a single person, that you think about all of these different customer personas, and what are those attributes and traits about them? You bring them into being. You create them as a human.

What’s their name? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they like about your organization? What do they need from your organization? How do they like to interact with you? What services do you think or products that they’re going to be using that are relevant to them?

It actually brings that customer to life even with the name and a photo. And ironically, when we do persona development, the biggest debate, to be honest, Simon, isn’t much about the personality, it’s always the photo or the name. But we think about, if for example… It’s an older demographic, is she Betty or Marg, and what does she look like? So then we start, when we then apply the personas, we then map — we can do customer journey mapping and apply the personas, or we can actually do things and go, “In a meeting, how would Betty respond to this product we’re about to launch? How would Betty feel if we force everyone to online and we don’t let people ring up the phone anymore?”

Well, Betties of the world, they’re probably going to want to pick up the phone. They may be digitally-savvy. And if we are encouraging the Betties of the world to go online or to move to a digital presence, then how can we make it as easy as possible for them? So, we start talking about any change, anything we’re doing within the organization. How would our different personas feel about what we’re doing and how can we make a difference?

And even walking in the shoes of the customer. If you’re going to change a process, for example, yeah, sure. You can rewrite the process to optimize it. But considering the process and the impact of that process, change and all the different personas, it just makes you really start walking into the shoes of a customer.

And you know, saying Betty rather than ‘older customer age’, this big segment lives here, lives there, and you actually create as a segment… If you consider it about Betty and you make it a person, we as humans naturally relate more to people. So, they’re more likely to think about that particular persona type rather than just referring to Betty as a segment or a number.

Simon Dell: There’s an excellent, and ironically it’s not in your book, but it was in another customer persona framework that I use, and it talks about building all the things that — exactly the same way that you’ve done with the customer personas. So, understanding their name, their demographics, all those kind of bits and pieces.

But one of the great questions I find in asking personas, asking these imaginary people questions is: How would their life be better with your product? And that’s really holding a mirror up to yourself and going: “If you can’t answer that, then you’re in trouble. Or if you can’t answer that well, you’re in trouble.”

Isabella Villani: Yeah, and the other thing we do, we do very similar — our approach for our personas is that the other thing we’ll do is, what will wow your customer? And that’s really, really interesting, Simon, because when we ask… Because we do focus groups as well as part of the persona design in some instances, but it’s really interesting because we only ask staff when we develop personas with them.

We go, “What would wow them?” And some of the things would wow them, I stand there in the workshop and go, “No. They just expect that. What would really wow them?” “Oh, that their internet is fast?” “No, they would pretty much expect internet because that’s what they’re paying for. What would wow them that they could do this online?”

And most organizations allow you to do that or not. It really makes internal staff members really understand, “Hang on a minute, we know it’s near impossible to do this because of integration between these back-end systems. So therefore, it might wow them as an employee, but they can offer that. But in actual fact, if they walk in the shoes of the customer, it isn’t wow-ing in them, it’s just you should, everyone else is, or that’s what I’m paying for.

So, using persona is a really powerful way of doing that to have that customer hat at the table. So for example in a meeting, someone in the room is allocated to be the customer. So, they wear a customer hat and their own hat. So they’ll go, “Hang on, if I was this particular customer… Oh, this persona, if I was Betty, I wouldn’t really like that because I think this would be…” So, she’s bringing the customer into the room if you can’t physically bring that customer into the room.

Simon Dell: I love the idea of doing the role play. I think that’s a great opportunity. And I think that will be quite a shocking revelation to a lot of people to sort of say, “Yeah, if I can’t sell to an imaginary customer who’s standing in front of me, then it’s going to be hard for me to present my business case and my brand to other people out there.”

Isabella Villani: And also, I’d question, if an initiative, product, whatever, isn’t going to make a big difference to a customer, if it’s not going to improve EX (employee experience) and CX (customer experience), we need to really question, why are we doing it? So when we do transformational projects, when we look at initiatives, we go, “What’s the benefit to the organization? What’s the benefit to the employee, and what’s the benefit to the customer?”

We actually look at those three elements in our work we’re doing. And I’m generalizing here because I’m just sort of giving you an example, but you can’t have a great employee experience without a great customer experience. And a lot of the times, our customers are internal, so it helps us think about that as well.

Simon Dell: It reminds me of the story. I mean, that sort of thing where you say, customers want fast internet, and you sort of say, well, that’s what actually customers expect. That’s something that they’re paying for. It reminds me of the Airbnb story where they kind of went, “What’s a five-star Airbnb experience?” And they analysed it and they said, “Well, everyone should be getting a five-star Airbnb experience anyway. That’s why we’re in business.”

And they scale it up and they sat there and said, “Well, what would be a six-star, what would be a seven-star, what would be an eighth-star?” I’m paraphrasing the story because I read it a while back, was that they have this concept of what an 11-star experience is as an Airbnb.

And I think it was something like staying in the International Space Station and having the Beatles play live for you, which obviously you know is never going to happen. But at least, what they then understand is, where there are elements that they can potentially pull out the 11-star experience and bring down to the 5-star experience.

Isabella Villani: Exactly. So when we talk about what wows our customers, it is, “Let’s see what wows them, and is that achievable? Because we could possibly do it.” The thing is, when you’re doing journey mapping and understanding personas, what wows them may not be as expensive or effortful as one would think. So I think that you’ve got to look at that when you’re looking at a customer experience.

And often, honestly Simon, because of where we are with customer experience, particularly in Australia, it’s actually just getting the basics right. So for example with Airbnb, it is being able to contact someone. It is been able to open the door when you arrive and know that there’s a key. Or if there’s fresh bread, bed linen provided, it’s there.

We’ve actually sometimes forgotten the basics because we’ve gone to the extreme to go, if someone calls you, they just want someone to answer the phone, and that person take ownership, accountability, and be able to help them with their inquiry. It’s actually not — and you think that’s really simple, but we’re making our organization so complex, and we’re putting all this technology like speech recognition at the front, and we’re actually, “Hang on a second. I’ll transfer you to someone else.”

So, we’re actually making it more complex for our customers to do business with us rather than ease. And I say in the book, and I’m a big fan of customer effort if you’re going to measure customer experience. The easier it is for you to make customers do business with you, the more likely you’re going to attract and retain them. So in my mind, I always talk to my customers. “How can we make it easier for our customers? How do we allow them to interact in a channel of their choice when they want to? We’ve got to make it easy. Why do we make them jump through hoops?”

It’s that sort of questioning that really transforms and organization if they’re constantly questioning themselves on how they do things better.

Simon Dell: It’s great that you come up with these ideas and it’s great that we customers and a business is trying to implement them. But if you’re a small business out there, so you’re not a multinational or even national company and you might just be a small mum-and-dad business, how would you suggest people go about measuring the success of any kind of customer experience implementational plan?

Isabella Villani: You can’t improve, really, what you can’t measure. So, the first thing around it is an awareness, and it is actually understanding your business from your customer’s perspective, and work out what makes a difference to them, and how can you measure it.

So for example, is it how fast they get served over a counter? Is it price? What is it that really encourages a customer to continue doing business with you? And look at those metrics and think, “Can we measure it today? And if we can’t, can we measure it tomorrow?” But what does success look like for us? And it’s just a brainstorming exercise, because a lot of the CX measured — and you can have a voice of the customer program and survey your customers, or put iPads in your shop with happy, neutral, sad faces, but there are a lot of metrics that you can have in an organization that you would know would be a pretty good leaver for customer experience.

And that might be, if someone’s ordered something from you and you’ve told them it’s going to be here on Monday, is Monday actually acceptable for them or were they expecting that last Thursday? And did you give it to them on Monday? And did you communicate proactively that it had arrived? What are the factors? What are the drivers of customer experience for your business, and then how can you measure them?

Simon Dell: How do you measure your business? I’m not putting you on the spot here, but you’ve obviously been doing what you’ve been doing for a long time, and you’re a service-based business. How do you measure that success for yourselves?

Isabella Villani: We look at repeat business. We look at feedback. Feedback is always a gift, and we’re always asking our customers for feedback. So, we will ask for feedback during a project. Is there anything else we could do? We share a lot of stories. We develop a lot of case studies to really understand where we’re going.

We don’t bid for a lot of work in tenders. But if we — often with government, that’s the only way you can do business with them. If we’re unsuccessful in a tender, I ask why. And often, we don’t ask why we were successful. So, if we win a piece of work, I want to know, what was it that made you choose us instead of someone else? A lot of our work is competed which I’m very lucky to be able to say that, but it’s constantly asking questions and it’s sharing things.

But we have some internal metrics that, I suppose, we don’t have on a wall board or anything like that, like on a call centre. But if customers contact us, we contact them back pretty much straight away. We’re quite responsive on email. So, we intrinsically know what the drivers of customer experience are, so we’re doing it all the time. But the most thing that I would say everyone does, is we just listen to our customers, and we really are proactive, and we probably go above and beyond of helping them.

So for example, if we’re on a client’s site, and there’s another issue going on which is exactly an example of a client that we’re working with now, we’re doing their CX strategy, their mission, and vision, and values, and commitments. We’ve run focus groups. We’ve done personas, journey maps. We’re helping them with some specific projects, but they’ve come to me with an extra project that isn’t within our scope, just to bounce ideas by us.

So, we’re really seen as thought leaders. In my mind, it doesn’t always mean if you ask me a question, you’re going to get an invoice from me because I’m very grateful that they have given us business. And if I can help and share knowledge, I’m happy to do that. So, it’s about give and take as well.

That particular customer was a reference for us on a tender that we were successful on. I thought, “Wow, she can take the time to do a reference check for us.” She rang me at short notice. They always ring me on the way home from work at night. I got a phone call on the way home. The very next day, I was on the phone with them at 7:30 in the morning while I was driving back into work again. So you think about, “That’s important to a customer, that you’re there when you need them.”

Simon Dell: Out of all the people that you’ve worked with, and actually all the people that you haven’t worked with, who do you think in Australia is doing customer experience the best?

Isabella Villani: People always ask me this question and I’m so critical. I really struggle with it all. In Australia… Let me think. I would say to you often the smaller businesses are doing it the best. And the irony of it is, they’re doing really well at it, and they don’t have the technology, and the bells, and whistles that the larger organizations…

So for me, they’re doing it well because they usually hire people who are caring, considerate, and provide that great customer experience. I hate to say this to you. As I said, we shop with multiple people. All the carriers out there at the moment I don’t have anything positive to say.

I can’t even get my… I was given a dodgy letter to push me on to get off broadband and onto NBN, and this thing never works. I’m surprised it hasn’t cut out while I’m talking to you, so I wouldn’t say the carriers. I can see some changes in things. So, Qantas are trying at the moment. Again, they’re sending me emails to say that, “We’re doing things.” But Qantas need to get the basics right, and that is get the plane to go on time and give me my luggage.

The last time I flew with Qantas, my flight was cancelled twice, and I was put on a third flight that was delayed. No explanation why. All done by text, and the text told me not to call them. Like, what? So, I would say — but then if you get on a plane, I find the crew lovely. So, I feel that holistically they need to look, basically, getting the basics right. That would be a lot.

Like Myer is struggling now and they’re doing a lot to change their customer experience. And you know, I think they’re listening to their customers a lot more. But what I’m finding is, a lot of the utilities, the water companies, and even government organizations are really thinking about how they do business better.

And a perfect example of that is the ATO. And if you read the case studies and the comments from Jane King, who contributed from the ATO in my book, they are really trying to make a difference in customer experience. They acknowledge that no one wants to talk to them. No one wants to pay taxes. No one wants to hand over their money. So, they’re trying to make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with them, recognizing that we don’t like them. So, they’ve got a bit of a challenge on their hands as well.

Simon Dell: It’s funny you mention Myer there, and in your book, there’s a case study from Kmart Australia as well. I’m always super Myer for two main reasons. I’ve shopped there. I bought luggage there last month, a couple of months ago, but I generally avoid the place like the plague. And I think for two reasons. Number one, I don’t think Myer have adjusted their product offering within the store to 2019. I think they’re still selling things that were popular in 2010, and they just haven’t…

Somewhere they’re buying has not quite worked out that the people have moved on. And I think the second thing from Myers’ point of view is, the experience doesn’t adjust to the different types of buyer. As you would probably know, men and women buy in very different ways, and then men and women buy things for children in very different ways. Myer doesn’t seem to… None of the big stores seem to understand that, or want to understand, or want to do anything about that, and it’s still this homogeneous kind of experience that everyone is supposed to get accustomed to.

Isabella Villani: Yeah. I hear you. I agree with you about Myer. The other thing that might has is a challenge for them to deal with. They’re actually almost like a mini department store. So, they’ve leased out their floor to Nike, or Mecca, or Sunglass Hut? So, it’s very hard to have a consistent customer experience in Myer if you can’t control all the staff.

And the other example is, I bought a pair of sunglasses online at Myer over Christmas. They came from overseas in shipping. Nothing was branded in Myer. Even the text to say that my item had been shipped. So I thought that it was spam text messages. I was hesitant to click any hyperlinks. The product came. The product was faulty, went into Myer, went to the counters change. “No, you need to go downstairs and queue up in the return section, and then come back to us. Go downstairs. Do it.”

My refund hadn’t come through till like five hours later, and I was expected to put more money on my credit card to purchase the gift, the sunglasses again. Like, come on, Myer. If you really want to have — and come across as one store, you’ve made it apparently clear that Sunglass Hut is separate to you, and you made me queue multiple times, and it was — and the irony of it was, there was a pair in stock.

So, they could’ve just processed a straight exchange. But because of their business model, I had to return the product, because I bought it online, to go upstairs and buy it again. For me, I’m your customer, so I don’t care that you’re Sunglass Hut. I don’t care that I bought it on your online channel and I’m in your face-to-face channel. It was just a terrible experience. So, I just think they’ve got to get that right.

Simon Dell: Yeah. And to be honest with you, I would probably argue it’s too much for them, and it will always be too much for them, to the point where they will eventually collapse under their inability to deliver that level of customer service that we come to expect and will be replaced by somebody who can do it.

I honestly can’t see Myer and probably David Jones ever adjusting in the way that you and I would both expect them to, which is sad, but that’s just what I think.

Isabella Villani: Yeah, look. They’ve got a new CEO at Myer. He’s not so new now, but let’s see what he can do. Ian Bailey contributed to my book, and I think the work he’s done at Kmart is pretty extraordinary because he really shift came up. He’s been promoted since, and he’s still within the Wesfarmers group.

But if you think about the transformation that’s happened at Kmart, that’s pretty big for a retail chain. So, I take my hat off to Ian Bailey and his team for the work they’ve done. Because as you mentioned, Myer and David Jones may struggle. You look at Bunnings over here doing really well. Bunnings failed in the UK. Masters come in here and Masters disappearing with their tail between their legs sort of thing. It’s a tough gig.

Simon Dell: The last question I’ve got for you today, is your chapter towards the end you talk about the future of customer experience, and you mentioned a lot of things that might come in and impact and change that customer experience, a part of everybody’s business.

What one of those do you think is going to be the most impactful in the next 5 to 10 years?

Isabella Villani: I would say the unknown. And that is, we have all of these new things coming into play that are impacting customer experience, new technologies, and things that are popping out there that we’re not even aware of. And Australians and humans in general, we’re becoming really fast adopters of new stuff.

So, I think the biggest challenge will be, all these new things that are coming into play, and how do you integrate it into your business? Even with technology, how big is your technology team going to become to be agile to keep up with supporting and maintaining all these new technologies that are coming in and having a play with customer experience.

So, I think that that’s a big challenge. And the other thing around customer experience, which is a challenge for organizations, is changes to their operating model. And that is that the way that they operate or do business today may not be how they can operate best tomorrow, and they may even need a different skill set because of the changes that are coming into play.

And we’re seeing that already with digitalisation, and customers self-serving, or customers getting a lot smarter with their technology and eliminating a lot of the white noise of why customers were calling in the past. So when customers are calling now, they’re tending to be more complex inquiries.

I don’t know if that answered your question, but I think all of those things together are going to have a big impact. And I think a lot of organizations, if they’re not agile, they’re going to be left behind. There is no room to be sluggish, to take your time. You’re going to have to be bold, be daring, and think about what we’re doing to customer experience and keeping up without resting on your laurels.

Simon Dell: Look, thank you very much for your time today. The last question I’m going to ask you is: If somebody wants to get hold of you, if they want to ask you a question, they even want to hire you guys to help them out with their customer experience, what’s the best way of getting in contact with you?

Isabella Villani: They can email me or find me via LinkedIn. I’ve got a website, Isabella Villani Author that has all of my contact details, and you can contact me via my website as well. I’m on social media if you want to follow me. I’m out there.

Simon Dell: Okay. What I would say is, just again from my perspective, if you get the chance, if you’re in Dymocks, or you’re on Amazon, the book is called Transform Customer Experience. Buy it because you won’t regret it. It’s an excellent read, and it’s one of those ones where I’ve turned over probably at least 20 corners to go back to.

And if you’re in marketing, it’s definitely something you should read. If you’re not in marketing, you’re running a business, it’s definitely something that you should read. But thank you very, very much for your time today. Very much appreciate it, and thank you for being on the show.

Isabella Villani: Thank you and thank you so much for inviting me, Simon. I’m delighted to hear you really enjoyed my book. Thanks for the feedback.

Simon Dell: And the last thing is, if anybody sees Isabella in Dymocks and she’s hanging about her own book, don’t say anything to her because it might be a bit weird moment. But she’ll sign a book for you whilst you’re there.

Isabella Villani: It might be. I just stalk around. Yeah, if you see me in Collins or Dymocks, just ignore me.

Simon Dell: Thanks very much.

Isabella Villani: Alright, beautiful. Thanks, Simon.

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