Interview Praveen Bangera

September 2023 | Customer Experience | Interview Interview Praveen Bangera

This is the full text of the face-to-face interview we had with Praveen Bangera, CX expert, at the Grand Plaza Mövenpick Media City.

Thanks Praveen for having us for this interview for CX-Dubai. Before we start with our regular interview on Customer Experience I always ask the interviewee to tell a bit about themselves, how they got involved in CX, what you’re doing now, and what your future plans are

Praveen Bangera: Thank you for having me. I always look forward to share my thoughts around CX and it’s influence to the world around us. In my recent professional capacity I have been engaged within Al Ghurair, a prominent diversified family business group in the Middle East. This conglomerate operates across various industry sectors, including foods, resources, properties, construction, energy, mobility, and ventures. I have been responsible for leading the development of the Customer Experience strategy, with the primary objective of ensuring that various business units within the group adopt Customer Experience as a fundamental component of their business model.

Customer centricity is a pivotal strategic initiative that has received approval from the executive board and is endorsed by the Group CEO, with enthusiastic support from the executive leadership team. My mission revolves around providing guidance and instigating transformations within businesses, directing them toward customer centricity and integrating CX practices seamlessly into their existing business models. The aim is for the CX strategy to become an intrinsic part of their operations, without requiring a fundamental change in their core business model.

My professional background has consistently revolved around the realm of customer experience, initially starting with UX design, which has played a significant role in my career. I've had the privilege of working with Mashreq for 15+ years on their digital and innovation initiatives, a bank with a rich history of over five decades as one of the top-performing financial institutions in the UAE.

My current aspirations center on working independently with businesses, offering guidance on CX, digital transformation infused with cutting-edge technologies like AI, ML, and immersive tech, as well as implementing various design-led strategies to facilitate sustainable business growth.

Thanks for this nice introduction! One of the standard questions we always ask at the beginning of an interview is how you would define “Customer Experience”.

Praveen Bangera: To me, customer experience can be defined in multiple ways, and while I haven't established a formal definition, as someone working in the field of customer experience (CX), I'd describe it quite simply: “Customer Experience encompasses all interactions, whether intentional or subconscious, that a customer has when engaging with a company's product or service, taking into consideration the entirety of the experience.” Throughout each of these interactions, whether customers are aware of it or not, their minds collect and retain data. However, bridging the gap between these interactions and a customer's perceptions of a brand or product remains a significant challenge.

Organization are not automatically customer focused, so what are for you the main pillars of “customer experience’ if you want to implement it in a company.

Praveen Bangera: Every organization operates with a predefined business model that includes fundamental elements critical to its success, such as sales, marketing, finance, product management, and HR. However, some businesses have introduced additional foundational elements to assist

business owners and decision-makers in making the right choices for sustainable business growth. When considering the key components for enhancing "customer experience," I would highlight the following pillars:

1. Mindset Alignment: Cultivating the right mindset is of paramount importance. A positive mindset makes it significantly easier to adopt behaviors that align with the company's culture.

2. Customer Interactions: Focus on observing and capturing genuine experiential data points during customer interactions. These insights must be translated into actionable information, which also aids in defining the customer base accurately.

3. Insight Generation: Dive deep into understanding what your customers need both in the present and future.

4. Implementation of Insights: Take action on the gathered information by making necessary adjustments to your products, services, or processes.

5. Governance and Feedback Loop: Establish a structured methodology for managing these processes, ensuring a continuous feedback loop for ongoing improvement.

Customer behavior is continually evolving, and in my opinion, these five pillars are essential for enhancing the overall customer experience.

And what do you see as the main difference between customer service and customer experience. Some people see customer experience as enhanced customer service.

Praveen Bangera: It's a common misunderstanding that customer experience is solely a part of the customer service domain. This misconception stems from the idea that service is only necessary when there's an established relationship. However, what people tend to overlook is that the process of selling to a customer begins the moment a prospective customer shows interest in your product or service. This initial engagement happens during the discovery phase, marking the commencement of the customer journey from the first interaction with a brand.

Sometimes, businesses lose sight of this fundamental concept. They adopt an "inside-out" approach, primarily focused on pushing their products onto the customer. In my view, customer service becomes relevant once a relationship with the customer is established. Conversely, "customer experience" encompasses a much broader scope, emphasizing that the relationship with the customer extends beyond this, and this distinction is at the heart of the matter.

It reminds me of what Professor Dr. Klaus (International University of Monaco) once said: you have three phases in the customer journey: the pre-acquisition phase, the acquisition itself and the post-acquisition phase.

Praveen Bangera: To articulate my point allow me to provide an illustration: Apple's customer lifecycle demonstrates a unique characteristic in the pre-acquisition phase. This is primarily because individuals who are already enthusiastic about Apple are existing customers, deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, and immersed in the company's products and services. Apple does not focus its sales efforts on these loyal customers, recognizing their allegiance to the brand. Instead, their marketing endeavors are directed at individuals who have not yet become Apple customers, such as those using

Android devices. Therefore, the pre-acquisition journey is designed to appeal to those who haven't yet embraced the brand, guiding them towards becoming Apple customers.

Undoubtedly, the brand's image plays a pivotal role in this process. Consequently, it is crucial to involve Customer Experience (CX) early in the pre-acquisition journey. This is where potential customers get their first taste of your products and services, and it's the point at which you can establish and communicate the value of your brand.

We talk now about the concept of CX, but did you implement the CX-strategy in a company? What were the results you got out of it? And of course what were the challenges you were confronted with?

Praveen Bangera: I had the privilege of introducing a CX strategy into various businesses encompassed various sectors. Following are my observations that I have gained during my interaction with CX leaders and few from my own personal experience.

While each of these businesses had some level of customer experience initiatives in place, a significant challenge was that unsuspectingly CX often took a back seat to other priorities. Sometimes, the immediate focus was on achieving sales targets or maximizing revenue, which occasionally meant that customer experience efforts were deprioritized. This presented a complex situation because investments in CX could yield positive results, leading to increased sales, but these gains were not always sustained. When viewed on average, the business might not show a profit, and it appeared that CX came at a cost.

The second challenge that is encountered by CX leaders was the need for cultural transformation and change management within the organization. Effectively implementing CX as a business transformation model requires addressing change management as a core component. In fact, I would go so far as to label CX as a business transformation model because when you integrate CX into your business model, it has the potential to reshape the organization into a customer-centric entity.

The third challenge involved persuading the board and the CFO of the organization. Implementing CX takes time before the allocated CX budget generates a substantial change and the desired Return on Investment (ROI). It's akin to planting a seed in the ground – initially, you don't see any visible growth. Only when that seed transforms into a plant and eventually a tree do you begin to reap the fruits of your labor.

This is why many businesses get confused with an "Investment on Return" rather than a "Return on Investment" approach. They tend to avoid more long-suffering perspective, not understanding that every CX initiative, just like any business initiative, requires time to grow and deliver results. You need to plant the seed first before you can expect a tree to grow and bear fruit.

Thanks Praveen, I will use this comparison. Another point of CX is the use of tooling, people also need certain tools to help their customer in a better way. What do you see as the best tools to drive CX forward.

Praveen Bangera: Certainly, you can gauge customer experience using basic manual methods such as basic office automation tools like basic forms, spreadsheets and even the legacy pen and paper. Once you are capable of gathering information, analyzing it intelligently, and creating an action plan to address your customers' concerns, you can already offer a solid customer experience.

However, in some cases, businesses deal with multiple types of customers: B2B clients, end-consumers, customers of your customers, and more. Managing these diverse customer relationships becomes considerably more complex, and it's in these situations that specialized tools tailored to each customer type become crucial. I strongly recommend investing in a "Customer Experience Management" solution (CXM). The choice of CXM should align with your business's size and specific requirements, and it must be scalable, allowing for expansion during growth and contraction during downturns.

CXM should serve as a comprehensive tool for capturing all customer data, ultimately assisting you in categorizing your customers into those who are satisfied, somewhat satisfied, and extremely satisfied. Based on your business model's direction, you can then take targeted actions to address the needs and preferences of each customer group.

You talk now about measuring, which also means KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators, Ed.). What are according to you the most important CX-KPI’s you can use. We see sometimes that it’s difficult for business owners to relate the CX KPI’s to the business results.

Praveen Bangera: You're absolutely correct. It's a common observation that CX Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are not always viewed by business owners as internal KPIs. In my view, it falls upon CX leaders within an organization to establish a connection between CX KPIs like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Customer Effort Score (CES) and link them to internal KPIs such as revenue and net profit. Additionally, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a critical metric in measuring customer experience for a business because it provides a long-term perspective on the value of a customer to the organization.

This entails integrating relationship data, transactional data, and behavioral data – a complex but necessary process. As part of the CX transformation, CX leaders and transformation specialists should develop a framework for this purpose, taking into account both internal KPIs (such as revenue and profit and loss, P&L) and external ones (like customer satisfaction and NPS).

By enhancing the customer experience, businesses can reduce the need to allocate extra operational hours to address reactive customer complaints. This proactive approach is not only more cost-effective but also results in happier customers and decreased customer attrition.

And do you have some innovative examples of great customer experience? Some companies that stand out in this?

Praveen Bangera: What immediately springs to mind is not a corporation but rather an entire nation – the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE has had a profound and enduring influence on me. Back in the early 2000s, I relocated to the UAE. Prior to that, I was running my own digital studio in India, and I had only heard of a city named Dubai. In 2004, I was presented with an opportunity to work for a major financial institution in Dubai. However, at that time, I still had little awareness of what Dubai had to offer. From the moment I first arrived in the UAE until the present day, spanning nearly two decades, this nation and its flagship city have consistently surpassed my expectations.

I view Dubai as a role model for the concept of customer experience. Remarkably, this nation even boasts a Minister of Customer Happiness, whose sole Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is the contentment of both residents and visitors. Anyone who visits or resides in the UAE is guaranteed a

remarkable experience. It's noteworthy that governments are typically associated with slow decision-making, yet Dubai operates at a level above and beyond the norm. This is a testament to the culture cultivated here over the past five decades since the UAE's establishment. It's a realization of the vision laid out by the founder of the UAE - Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who sowed the initial seeds, and today, it has grown into a flourishing tree, yielding abundant fruits. Dubai serves as an exemplary model for other cities and countries around the world. No to mention the current leadership is driving the same values set by the founders with similar passion and the current state of growth in this country is a testament to it.

Well Praveen, before we started the interview you already mentioned machine learning, AI (Artificial Intelligence, Ed.). We see nowadays that the customer journey has become much more digital. In some case it’s even 100% digital. How can you turn these data into strategies, insights and actions?

Praveen Bangera: That's an excellent observation. In the era of digital proliferation, where many businesses offer their services through digital channels, and there's a reduction in face-to-face interactions, I'm reminded of a quote by Ian Golding, an internationally recognized speaker and thought leader in the field of CX: "Regardless of the medium a customer uses to engage with a business, service, or product, the experience is always delivered by a human." Essentially, the experience is fundamentally human-to-human, even if the delivery medium is digital, and the data points collected during these interactions are digital. The core of the experience is still conceived and crafted by a human.

Imagine walking into a restaurant, where you're greeted with a pleasant ambiance, the enticing aroma of delicious food, a courteous escort to your table, a scenic view, and exceptional service. Now, think about replicating that same experience in a virtual world, such as the metaverse. In this case, it's a human who must design a similar encounter. Regardless of the setting, whether it's a physical restaurant or a virtual one, the experience is always crafted by a human. They must gather all the necessary information and construct a CX environment that mimics or surpasses within the realms of the environment.

In a digital environment, understanding a customer's past behavior is also essential. This knowledge helps businesses tailor their interactions to meet individual preferences. These insights contribute to delivering a superior customer experience. Therefore, the challenge lies in developing technology that can emulate the empathy and personal touch of a human, ensuring that the experience in the digital immersive world is as engaging and satisfying as a real-world encounter.

We see today that companies have a lot of data at their disposal, but it’s still very hard for them to use these data, do the predictive analysis on it and translate this to the right actions. How does this come?

Praveen Bangera: Indeed, it's a classic scenario where data exists but isn't effectively utilized. Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) worldwide must recognize that their utility is subject to constant change. They need to pivot towards data points that are centered around enhancing the customer experience. There's an abundance of behavioral data available today. For instance, consider an e-commerce website: your actions on the site are influenced by your interests, demographics, and psychographic characteristics. However, the site typically only sees the digital traces of an anonymous visitor. To address this limitation, broader and deeper customer insights must be integrated into digital platforms capable of capturing a customer's genuine needs and future requirements. This

transformation will pave the way for the creation of "digital butlers" in the future, offering highly personalized assistance based on an individual's unique identity.

Maybe a last important question. What do you see as being the top three CX trends for now and the coming years?

Praveen Bangera: First and foremost, and this ties back to our previous point, let's talk about AI and ML. AI is a trendy term, but in essence, it's a more rapid and intelligent form of automation. Think of it like a magician's performance; if you see a magic trick in slow motion, you can often discern the secret. It's the swiftness and the artistry of the magician's hands, body movements, lighting, and sound that create the illusion of magic. AI operates on a similar principle. For me, AI's journey began with the calculator maybe even earlier, then advanced to scientific computing, personal computers, and now, with the exponential growth in data storage capacity and internet connectivity, it has reached remarkable heights. What we observe today is that the velocity and computational power have reached a level akin to a magician's skill in performing tricks. That, in my view, is the genuine essence of AI.

The second emerging trend I anticipate is generative AI, a development that will revolutionize how people perceive the world. This transformation won't be confined to visual elements; it will extend to emotions as well. In the future, humans will be able to replicate the way they experience the world, ushering in entirely new ecosystems and experiences.

The third and final trend I foresee is the widespread adoption of CX in main stream academia. Many companies are yet to embrace the fundamentals of this approach, and I predict that educational institutions will incorporate it into their curricula. More and more universities should consider including CX in their educational programs.

Maybe a final question for our audience. Do you have a key tip for building a customer centric culture?

Praveen Bangera: Cultivating a robust customer experience (CX) culture involves a comprehensive approach. To build a customer-centric culture, organizations need strong leadership support, along with engaged employees who are empowered and equipped with the necessary skills to prioritize and enhance customer experiences. Additionally, a clear customer-centric vision and a feedback-driven, data-informed approach are essential components. Encouraging innovation, empathy, and consistent brand messaging while fostering a culture of continuous improvement, celebrating CX successes, and prioritizing employee satisfaction are additional key components in building a lasting CX culture that drives customer loyalty and business success.

Many thanks Praveen for this great interview!

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