Learning from Leaders: CX lessons from American Express - Omoto
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Learning from Leaders: CX lessons from American Express

American Express is a well-known name in the financial sector and the brand has always been applauded for its excellent customer service capabilities. Amongst the tons of differentiating aspects, the major one is that it empowers its customer care professionals to do what’s right for the customer. It realizes that every situation cannot be scripted. Also, it recognizes what its employees do as a result of this empowerment and as a gesture, it delivers awards to employees who go above and beyond to help customers. Further, their stories are shared across the company.

In an interview with Business Today, Manoj Adlakha, the CEO of American Express, India, talks about a host of issues such as challenges in the financial industry, the emergence of wallets, and the manner in which the credit card industry is dealing with those challenges. According to him, out of the total private expenditure in India (60% of GDP), a mere 10% is due to credit or debit cards and wallets. Contributing to factors such as demonetization, the total spending on cards has increased to 1.5x. Further, 37.5 million credit cards and 860 million debit cards contribute towards this with almost equal sales coming from each. 57% of the total card transactions are now happening online and therefore Amex introduced features like ‘Ezeclick’. This has already got very high adoption rates primarily because it is frictionless and prevents fraud. With 10,000 merchants already enrolled, this leader is looking forward to acquiring more consumers digitally. This leaves much room to increase the digital touchpoints and work on optimizing each one of them. To ensure that the customer experience is par excellence, there is a 24*7 service centre. Therefore, we can see that for American Express, customer experience is of paramount importance.

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For this company, relationships are at the core of every single transaction. It truly strives to build long-term relationships with its customers by understanding, respecting, and adding value to them. It has an ethos called ‘Relationship Care,’ which focuses on serving customers in their channel of choice and treating interactions as relationship-deepening moments.

How did American Express Build Brand Loyalty with Customer-Focused Sales Program?

The company, which is well-known for its service delivery, became the innovator of cross-selling in 1995 with its “customer-focused” sales program. It used the momentum of the inbound service calls to deepen both, the relationship with customers and their loyalty. This was done using four strategies: 

1) structured call routing

2) predictive hiring assessments

3) focus on fewer metrics, and 

4) leveraged variable pay

For example, the American Express suite of routing and CRM systems identify an inbound customer who is not enrolled in the Membership Rewards program, but who spends a significant amount each month in the eligible reward point categories. If there has been no recent offer made to the customer, the system routes the customer to the Customer-Focused Sales Unit to be serviced first, and then to be offered the Membership Rewards program. 

This method serves a dual purpose. Besides educating the customers on the present sales promotions, it’s a good opportunity to reinforce Amex’s branding and create a depth of loyalty through educating its customers on the value of its products. 

Here is a look at a few other lessons that can be derived from this leader in the customer experience field

Focus on Fewer Metrics 

The company realized that about one-third of the calls directed to the customer service were eligible for cross-selling. So, it established a dedicated routing system with a Customer-Focused Sales Unit (CFS) that would resolve customers’ service issue and provide the most appropriate offer to sell. Amex used automation in optimizing its call centres, whereby a contact channel’s desirability would be assessed based on the profit contribution or Net Present Value (NPV). 

The company doesn’t drive a call to the lowest-cost channel but instead routes it to the most profitable channel based on the customer interaction history. During the launch of the CFS program in 1995, it utilized virtually every conceivable metric. But, later, it realized that the more successful a company is, the more specific the metrics are. Leaders use fewer performance measures, and only those focused on business outcomes. 

Monitor and Coach

These two factors are directly correlated with the improvement of sales performance. At Amex, all the calls are recorded and there is a separate team for conducting the monitoring process. Besides, the critical components of the call are scripted, with a primary focus on personal selling. The monitoring staff focuses on three areas: 

1) compliance 

2) the customer experience and 

3) the representatives’ decision quality

It believes that modelling and peer coaching are powerful ways to influence and change behaviour. Here is a case in point. There was a representative who had been in customer service for some time. However, he was still struggling with his performance and was in the bottom 20th percentile overall. The team leader ‘buddied’ him with a top performer so that he could learn from the latter’s methods.

What was the result? Within months, this bottom performer rose to the top 1 percentile in all performance categories and within the top 10 percentile in sales. It is a lesson that firing an employee is not the right answer always.

Recruit effectively, train well, and incentivize appropriately

Amex focusses on hiring the very best. Therefore, the recruitment team is comprised of a number of experts, including several Ph.D.s, who identify strong service ethics and sales abilities through the development of proprietary predictive assessment tests. 

Also, training is done in a simulation environment. And post the training, employees are deployed on a 90 day probation period. Subsequently, based on their performance, they’re either placed in service or sales-skilled team or their posting is delayed until their skills have been proven. 

Moreover, the pay structure is pretty flexible where top performers can almost double their base pay while bottom performers do not make variable pay and eventually self-select out of the call centre.

American Express has all of the same performance management elements as other companies, but it executes each of these elements more rigorously, methodically, and flawlessly than most. In addition, it has woven its branding strategy into a sales and service philosophy that is well-thought-out and continuously communicated throughout the organization.

This blog has been inspired by this case study.

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