Interview Faran Niaz

March 2023 | Customer Experience | Interview Interview Faran Niaz

This is the full text of the face-to-face interview we had with Faran Niaz, CEO & Founder of CX Future, at the Raffles The Palm.


Hello Faran, nice meeting you here again in Dubai. We do these interviews a couple of times a year with some CX leaders, CX influencers. But before we start with our interview questions. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? What is your position now and what have you done in the past regarding customer experience?

Faran Niaz: First of all, thank you very much for this opportunity. To answer your question: Yes, my journey has been quite exciting. I am now more than 25 years in the field of customer experience. I’ve worked for some top organizations in the past, like Citibank, and two large banks here in Dubai, Mashreq and ADIB. I am proud to share that I orchestrated the success of one bank here and took it from 23rd place to No.1 Bank in Customer Experience in UAE.

Nowadays I am the CEO and Founder of my own company, ‘CX Future’ which I have transitioned into my own CX consultancy practice. I do not refer to myself as a consultant but more as a CX practitioner since I have done a lot of hands-on work in the field of Customer Experience.

My passion has always been customer experience and my drive or mission is to convert regular customers of any organisation into loyal customers. To achieve this, I go to organisations and help them understand their customers. And see how we can evolve their customer experience from regular to an exceptional customer experience.

I am listed amongst the ‘Top 100 Global CX Thought Leaders’ of the world and also certified by Awards International as one of the most experienced CX Awards Judges. I have judged over 30 International CX competitions for multiple Awards across every continent. And last but not least, I am an internationally recognized keynote and motivational speaker, and run my own comprehensive CX Masterclasses too.

That’s an impressive track record Faran! A question that we always ask to our interviewees: How do you see Customer Experience? We know that there are a lot of definitions around, so we want to know how you see it. And maybe also the difference that you see between customer experience and customer service?

Faran Niaz: Well it’s a very interesting question. I’m always intrigued by it, because even today many people that are associated with the CX profession are not clear about the difference between Customer Service & Customer Experience . To give you an example: at one of the last events I was speaking at, a lot of senior CX professionals from multiple organizations were present and I asked them the same question and not a lot of them were able to answer this.

I am not going to define it here, but let me put it in a very simple way: look at customer experience as a holistic concept for the customer’s journey with an organization or a brand. From the time that a customer starts to engage with an organization till the very end, there are multiple interactions and touchpoints. And every touchpoint is an experience that influences the next experience. If you compare this with customer service, this is a more transactional, reactive approach. Customer Service is part of customer experience and customer experience can have multiple service journeys.

Let me give you an example: when I go to a restaurant, sit at a table and I order some food. How accurately my food is served, how quickly it is served, how well it is all cooked: this is all service, as it

is what I asked for. So food with the correct ingredients at the right temperature and in a reasonable time. However there are many other factors that will define my interaction and stay at the restaurant e.g. type and volume of the music that's playing, ambiance of the place, behaviour of the staff, greetings, their courtesy, their attention to details, noise level, cleanliness and so many more factors. This means that my experience will not be based on the service alone but on the entire journey at that restaurant and even one single experience, good or bad, can eventually define my satisfaction levels. So the pressure is there, so that every step in the customer journey needs to hit the bulls eye.

For me it’s about three things: perception, emotion and opinion

1. Perception: So first you perceive: when I’m going somewhere or I interact with an organization, there is a perception in my mind: What am I expecting.

2. Emotion: while I’m going through this customer journey, my emotions tell me if I’m happy, sad, angry, frustrated, excited… These emotions define my journey.

3. Opinion / Feedback: based on the emotions I have experienced, I create an opinion. This ultimately reflects in customer feedback, surveys or an NPS or CSAT score. And most importantly, this will help me decide if I will return to this restaurant or not and if I will recommend it to my friends or not. That's called building a reputation which directly impacts the brand.

So what would you define then as the key components in Customer Experience?

Faran Niaz: Good question! There are multiple ways, how organizations build their CX pillars today. And there are multiple pillars where customer experience needs to stand on.

First of all you need a CX Strategy and it needs to be based on the overall values of an organization. I’m always surprised that when I go to companies and ask them if they have an organizational Mission and Vision, they always say YES, but when I ask if they have a seperately defined Mission and Vision for Customer Experience , 99% of companies say NO. So a clearly defined CX strategy needs to be an integral part of the organization's overall strategy.

Next critical pillar is CX Culture based on employee engagement. You engage the employees and then you create a real CX culture. But you need to make sure that everything that you had already defined regarding your CX strategy is also embedded within the organization. Assign clear roles and responsibilities, empower employees, create a good reward and recognition plan based on performance and ensure that each employee regardless of the job title understands their role in delivering customer experience.

And once you’ve done this, you need to bring in the Voice of the Customer and CX Metrics & KPIs. So you not only benchmarking yourself against the industry standards, but also against the best companies amongst all industries. This is what top organizations do.

Integrate Technology to support CX activities. Digital transformation should be used as a tool to enhance service experience and not just to replace it.

And last of all you need creative Tools to Analyze your CX performance in real time and also look at performance trends, so you can monitor your progress.

All of this will help to create a complete Customer Experience picture.

And do you have some great examples of customer experience that you have seen over the past couple of years or even recently?

Faran Niaz: Before I go into some examples, let me first tell you what’s typical for us as customer experience professionals. When you are in the profession of CX, you are always analyzing the situation or customer journeys you are in. Like when I arrived here at this beautiful hotel, the way the valet took my car, the way I was greeted at the entrance, the beautiful ambiance, it all impacted my impression. We as CX professionals are always looking at every detail, constantly analyzing the way we are treated as a customer and how the entire experience is designed.

Now, to answer your question, globally there are organizations that define customer experience and have even become benchmarks. I always give the example of Zappos. To me they are at the top of the Customer Experience delivery ladder. Did you know that Zappos has a 365 day return policy (you can check it here, Ed.)? considering that most online retailers only offer a 7 day return policy. Compare this to my own experience a couple of days ago at a high street shop here: I returned a T-shirt after a few days because the size was wrong. The shop assistant asked for a receipt which I didn’t have anymore. I even showed them my credit card payment with the amount, date and even their product code, but they refused to change the item.

To give you another Zappos example that I heard from their Head of Customer Experience. A customer called them while she was looking for a pair of shoes online. So the service agent checks the stock and says to the customer, I’m sorry but this item is not available anymore. Now, a lot of other organizations would say: “Sorry, it’s not here but we’ll call you back whenever it’s available”. But you know what the service agent at Zappos did? He looked at the directory, found another shop selling the same shoe in the right size, contacted the shop and connected the customer with the shop assistant! The customer was shocked of course. She said “you’re giving your customer to another? Who does that?” The service agent answered “My job is to satisfy. That’s what I am here for. I want to make sure that you go back as a satisfied customer, either through me or someone else”. This is really amazing. This is what creates loyal customers!

I am also privileged that I am living in this part of the world (United Arab Emirates, Ed.) where technology and customer experience are getting a lot of attention. For example, just two weeks ago the UAE Government published their top 10 Best Customer Experience government organizations. This is significant. It defines the direction for others to follow.

Related to these examples you just gave Faran, do you think that people are prepared to pay more if they can have a better customer experience?

Faran Niaz: This is a given. Why would I go somewhere and not expect to be treated well? Take this hotel for instance (Raffles Dubai The Palm, Ed.), which is one of the finest in Dubai. You come here because you have a set of expectations and you expect a very high quality of the room and the service you are getting.

There is also a reason why brands become strong names, because they fulfill those promises. This is also the reason why they call Ritz-Carlton the North Star of Customer Experience. Their guests pay to be treated well. (See also their Gold Standards -, Ed.)

It’s also important to note that customers are very savvy now. Customers know what they want and they can compare. So an organization also needs to perform better than their direct competition to retain its customers.

However, we must understand that Customer Experience is not about price alone. It’s about the simple and small things that matter. It's about attention to details, about knowing your customers well, about understanding their needs and delivering promises, CX is all about creating those special MOMENTS that will bring your customers back. That is the reason why even a small outlet can be more popular than a large store. Customers rarely remember what they got but they will always remember how they were treated.

According to you Faran, how do you measure CX and what are for you the ideal tools to measure CX?

Faran Niaz: I’ll be very clear about this: for me organizations don’t need to talk about Voice of Customer but about Voice of Business. You need to design your entire customer experience in terms of the VOB. Voice of Business comprises of the Voice of the Customer, Voice of the Employee, Voice of the Process and Voice of Action.


A lot of organizations are capturing the Voice of the Customer, by reporting NPS, CSAT, CES, but shockingly only 17% of organizations are capturing the Voice of the Employee. And while employees are the ones who are dealing with customers day in, day out, their voice is not part of the CX related decision making today.

Voice of Process is also an important one for me: this is a transactional survey that you also need to perform. So you can measure the effectiveness of your processes and see if it still corresponds to the journey maps that you’ve designed.

Similarly understanding the Voice of Action is critical too: the customers’ behaviour must be tracked on a high number of interactions that they are doing. Now that the customer journey is getting more and more digital it is easier to perform these high volume analytics. They also can have a predictive value. E.g. a credit card company sees that a high tier customer is spending much less with them. This can mean that this customer might leave you in the short term or that perhaps he is now using the credit card from your competitionmore often. This covers "sentiment analysis" too: understand and listen to the sentiments of your customers and you can fully understand their future behaviour and needs.

In an ideal world we would have perfect Customer Experience, but today we still see a lot of bad CX examples. What do you see today as the major pitfalls in CX? And why is it that it’s still difficult to achieve?

Faran Niaz: This is an excellent question. First of all, Customer Experience can not flourish in an organization unless it is driven from the top. So you need to get the leadership on board. The issue we have today is that leadership is not driving Customer Experience. They left it to a group of people, the customer experience unit. You would be surprised if you ask the C-suite in many organizations what their Customer Experience strategy is, and they would not know. The hot debate now is: who should the CX unit report to, under which group should it exist? I am very clear on this: this CX unit needs to be independent, it should be directly under the top leadership. Myself, I always reported to the CEO. It is a challenge to be neutral if you are under a unit, to which you are reporting on its performance too.

Second element is the involvement of the employees. Nowadays employees are not involved in decision making on customer experience. When I was chair of the Customer Experience Council at a

bank, I always made sure that the front office staff was involved in the decision making. Their voice along with the customer's voice matters the most.

Thirdly, we need to analyze the Voice of the Customer. We’re not analyzing enough. Sometimes customers can be loyal to your organization, but this does not mean that they are happy with the service that you provide. You need to read everything that the customer is sharing with you, and not only keep the scores. Read the bad reviews but also the good ones. I once shared an NPS survey with the top management where the score was 9 (Promoter). However, that customer wrote that he and his family have always been loyal customers of the bank, but in recent times the bank's service had declined a fraction and the customer listed several ideas and suggestions. We went back to that customer, thanked him for his loyalty and suggestions and worked on them to bring improvement. Any other organization would look at the score and simply consider this customer happy and loyal, missing on critical information provided.

There is also a serious disconnect between the CX strategy and what is delivered in the front office. Most people in the front office don’t know what their role in CX is (there are exceptions, see also the Gold Standards of Ritz-Carlton, Ed.). Unfortunately, CX leaders today are more inclined towards creating complex and detailed strategies by using multiple frameworks, but very little of this is actually transferred to the front office as actionable items. What customers eventually seek is simple, personalized experiences and this has little to do with complex frameworks. Dont’ take me wrong, frameworks are important and they help design the CX strategy, but the effective implementation of this is a totally different story. And that's where the disconnect is.

Finally another big problem that I see today, is that many organizations confuse Digital with Customer Experience. Digital Transformation is just an enabler, a support mechanism, it is NOT Customer Experience. That’s why the top organizations are clear about the balance between human and digital transformation. Ironically, for a lot of organizations, digital transformation is a financial decision and not a CX decision. Let’s implement software, let’s do self-service, let’s implement a chatbot in the customer service center, and as a result, reduce the number of service agents in the call center, close a service center etc. And that's what's happening today. Ever wonder why the wait time to connect to a call center agent has dramatically increased ovr the last few years? Or even worse, it's getting impossible to connect to a human service provider now? That’s why it has become so difficult to talk to someone in a customer service center. Organizations must think of “Phygital”, a combination of physical and digital experience. A balanced approach.

And what are according to you the top CX trends that we are seeing today?

Faran Niaz: I think that personalization is very important and that’s a good sign. And this is where technology plays a big part: with the help of AI you can analyze the behaviour of a customer and propose the offerings they want. A good example of this is Netflix.

Emotional behaviour is also an important trend. Understanding emotions makes it possible to capture the true voice of your customer and take steps to improve the customer journey to drive loyalty.

On the other hand I am not yet fully convinced of the Metaverse. I see the advantages for the Retail & Hospitality Industries, however, I still like to have the physical experience before I do a purchase.

Empathy is for me a trend that will never go away, this can make or break your customer experience.

How can businesses evaluate their CX maturity level? I’m asking this because a lot of organizations are starting big transformation projects, but they don’t get the necessary return out of it and then they say that CX is not a strategic business driver for them.

Faran Niaz: First of all it’s important to know where you stand today. You need to define what type of CX Maturity levels you can have. I would bracket maturity levels into four categories;

1. Novice

2. Starting

3. Developed and

4. Benchmark or North Star

Once you have defined this you can look at the capabilities and analyze the different components of CX within your organization. Once you have listed these capabilities you can assess yourself against the maturity levels and know what’s good, where your pain points are, what needs to be improved. Also important to note is that this assessment needs to become an ongoing process, and not a one shot exercice. Only then you can have a long term successful CX Strategy.

Since we are here in sunny Dubai, are there any differences that you see regarding the view on CX in different parts of the world or is it a universal thing?

Faran Niaz: I have the privilege of being an International CX Judge, so I have the opportunity to read and assess a lot of CX entries from companies all over the world. I have read 100’s of entries covering practically every aspect of CX. One thing that I find common in a lot of leading organizations, is the passion for Customer Experience and the pride they take in making their customers happy.

Passion is universal, if you don’t have and you’re only framework driven it will be very difficult to achieve results. Fact is that even before we talked about frameworks, journey mapping, agile etc. customer experience always existed and I can safely say that the service was even better then and much more personalized.

The positive thing is that people around the globe do understand the importance of Customer Experience and many big companies are leading the way today, such as Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Apple, Amazon etc.

Nowadays, the pressure is also on organizations as their customers have become global customers and they expect the same experience they have encountered at top CX organizations. They need to deal with customers that are used in having stellar customer experiences around the world, so they need to step up their game and ensure that exceptional experiences are delivered constantly. Regardless of which part of the world you operate in, at the end it is the customer who defines the experience and sets the benchmarks.

Maybe a last question Faran: here in Dubai we see that there is a Ministry of Happiness. Can you tell me a bit more about it and why they started with this?

Faran Niaz: The Ministry is not there by name only, its only mission is to ensure that the citizens and visitors here get the best of the best. Dubai has the ambition to be the most customer centric country in the world. As a standard, every six months to a year the Ministry evaluates government

departments and ranks them by the level of service they provide. Similar to hotels, you can now see STAR ratings outside each government department ranking from 1 – 6 stars.

By creating a Ministry of Happiness, a strong statement has been made by the dynamic rulers of this nation, that happiness and wellbeing of their citizens is of the utmost importance. UAE is a touristic country and delivering world class experiences to its visitors is the top most priority here.

Many thanks for your time and this interview Faran.

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