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Hear how American Express brings the voice of the customer to life

This is the first installment of our new blog series, “Customer Experience Visionaries.” In each post, we’ll feature highlights from a conversation with a Customer Experience thought leader on creating a world-class customer experience, empowering employees to take action, elevating the voice of the customer and so much more.

We’re thrilled to kick off the series with a conversation with Luis Angel-Lalanne, VP of Customer Listening at American Express.

On getting started in Customer Experience with American Express:

I really wanted to get closer to the customer. I wanted a role that was core to what we do at Amex.

It's my third year in the CX space, but I've been at AmEx 19 years now. It's been ten years in risk management and five years in the compliance monitoring space within the servicing group. I got a taste of CX with the compliance monitoring where we're on a team, listening to phone calls, but I really wanted to get closer to the customer. I wanted a role that was core to what we do at AmEx.

On CX at the center of American Express’ culture:

We have a long history of service. The company is 168 years old. Service has been a constant throughout. I think the modern trend of focusing on CX helps AmEx in that service is what we want to do and we want to do it better than anyone else. CX provides that framework and customer source of information to feed and influence how we think about servicing in a way that's meaningful to our customers and ensure that we deliver servicing experiences that they want. I think that customer connection is kind of what fuels the history and the culture of AmEx. I didn't have to come in and try to create the customer-centric culture; I was able to step into that and feed the demand that was already there.

On providing good customer service globally:

Last year, an AmEx customer attended Diwali in India. They're setting off fireworks, something goes wrong and the sister-in-law of the card member gets burns all over her body from a firework that went bad and they're 250 miles north of Mumbai. They don't know what to do and she's gotta get treatment immediately, so the card member picks up the phone and calls AmEx. Our customer services rep jumps into action and coordinates with an air ambulance to go pick them up and get them to the National Burn Institute. At the same time, she was on the phone with the credit organization telling them to let all these transactions go through, make sure they don't get stopped by any credit rules. That's pretty rare, but it's genuinely a life-threatening situation in which the customer thought to call AmEx. That's astonishing to me, in this scary situation she turned to us, her credit card company, to help with everything. I think it’s really moving to hear at AmEx about what that customer culture means -we don't get it right all the time, that's for sure. But when we hear those stories, it's really inspirational.

 On bringing that voice of customer to life for all employees:

We did little things like for our customer service, we built four London landing style phone booths. We painted it AmEx blue and in our AmEx offices where we don't have a big call center presence, we'll put a little iPad in there with buttons so you can go in and listen to actual phone calls. So it's another way to let our frontline coach in the groups that aren't sitting in call centers who can't just go do side-by-sides whenever they want to get a feel for what's happening and what's our service like. We try to pick the good, everyday phone calls for people to listen to.

On empowering every person in your organization to be able to take action:

make it easy, recognize them, and solve their problem

We provide a framework to let our frontline folks do what they want to do. People want to do meaningful things. They want to have a positive impact. There are three main ways we try to make it real for our frontline employees: make it easy, recognize them, and solve their problem. The same holds true with customers. Sometimes the most straightforward way of recognizing good work is to thank someone for their years with you. But we try to do it in an authentic way, 'cause that's an easy throw-away comment.

On investing in and coaching employees:

empower employees with the freedom to do what's right for the customer

We’re trying to find the right way to do this from everything like incentives over to scorecards. The foundation really is trying to empower employees with the freedom to do what's right for the customer and what's right for themselves in that transaction. Our calls aren't scripted. One of the most powerful things you can do is just give them that unfiltered access to their performance results, so when their team leader comes over and it's time for coaching, if there's a bad survey, then go listen to the phone call, you can look at exactly how the customer answered every single question and the exact commentary. Customer feedback and their level of satisfaction is the biggest component of our frontline phone reps incentive.

On increasing customer feedback in the scorecard:

2007 was when we first pushed it into the individual frontline phone reps incentives. As long as I've known, it's always been the biggest component. It's not just a quarterly thing, or even an annual, or even a two-year thing. We're measuring this now in decades. We also do a monthly scorecard review with the senior most leaders in the company of all their metrics and CX is right up there. We always add right behind it a page of verbatim quotes from that month, both positive and negative, grouped by theme, product, and service. So your first page you're looking at the metrics, what's up with them, what are people's goals? On the second page, we hopefully get people back to what are our customers actually telling us.

On learning new CX strategies from other industries:

Always be mindful that our survey is also an experience

We aspire to be the greatest servicing brand in the world, not just in financial services. So we totally look to all the top brands for ideas on what are they doing, how are they empowering people? We also try to look at a breadth of brands, like top brands from Ritz Carlton and Hyatt Hotels down to Starbucks, which is pretty mass market. We try to make sure we're looking not just at the high end. We try to take a broad view knowing that our aspiration has always been to be the world's most respected service brand. That's been how AmEx thinks of itself. It's like competing with the best in the world. So we do benchmark studies, that we'll create and send out and just ask people about their service experience whether it's with a car company or a hotel or another credit card. I'm always looking at every other survey we get and how is that position trying to represent us. Always be mindful that our survey is also an experience. We did a huge refresh of our surveys this year, with Qualtrics leading the way for us, making it much shorter, punchier, better. Our response rates have gone up two and a half to three times

On the future of CX:

Now that we have the technology, we want to accurately model customer satisfaction and not rely on the survey, as even with our now doubled and tripled response rates, we're still only getting customer satisfaction surveys on a sliver of our interactions with customers. Using voice analytics to measure customer satisfaction could lead to improved data and improved modeling techniques. I think there's a cool opportunity in the future beyond just surveys. There're a lot of CX programs that are set up almost like factories. Punching out widgets every day, sending out surveys, collecting responses, and trying to learn from that to improve frontline folks’ experience and improve processes for leaders, but they're not nimble, they're not flexible, they're not responding to questions that you have internally. So one thing I really like is if I can start to model customer satisfaction, that can frees me up to use the survey a little more for research than I can today. I'm hoping that in the future survey programs become less of a fixed machine. You can still keep those survey metrics going, but kind of meld survey with more research and kind of hope those two can come together rather than being two completely independent processes.

Recommendations for CX junkies:

Take every survey that comes your way

Take every survey that comes your way. Take every one and look at it. Understand the flow, understand what they're asking, why, and understand when it comes relative to your experience. I'm always doing that and forwarding them to my team. So I think that's a fantastic sort of step we're all experiencing that some people would say is a nuisance, but I think it's great that we've got competitive information coming at us every day.

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