95% of companies consider themselves to be customer-focused but only 8% of their customers agree

  • Article
  • Alexander Niléhn
  • September 27, 2019

BBH Stockholm’s head of strategy Gül Heper is the co-founder of CMO goes TECH - An International network for the CMOs of the future.

95% of companies consider themselves to be customer-focused but only 8% of their customers agree

BBH Stockholm’s head of strategy Gül Heper has focused her business career on defining how brands and experiences should evolve to ensure competitiveness and grow their businesses. For the last 5 years, as a former CMO and commercial leader she's been on a quest to push the boundaries for the role of the CMO. A more complex role to secure the best customer experience by combining contextual data with marketing and new technology. She’s a renowned speaker on the topic and takes every opportunity to share her knowledge that she has acquired throughout the years. 

On that note.

Gül is the co-founder of CMO goes TECH - An International network for the CMOs of the future. The network arranges a series of meet-ups where they’re exploring trends and technology in order to identify how marketing and technology meet for improved customer experience.

Thursday, 19th was the date for their 7th meetup with focus on how to succeed with holistic customer experience. As a colleague, friend, and admirer of what she has accomplished, I attended to learn more. It was an excellent venue at SAS Institute in Stockholm.


Accompanied by her co-founder Cecilia Hjertzell they invited the first keynote speaker up to the stage.


Jenny Gejke, Head of Digital Channel Development at SJ AB held a keynote on how to manage the customer experience in such a complex system that SJ is part of. With 140.000 passengers per day distributed on 1200 departures from 284 stations, and with 665 retailers it’s undoubtedly a huge ecosystem to be part of.


The more impressive that SJ aims to be one of Sweden's most digital companies with the goal of continually using new technology to create smarter trains that are sometimes developed in their own innovation lab – SJ Labs. It makes a lot of sense business-wise. Digital sales are rapidly increasing with the increased availability of ticket vending machines, online, mobile and other new channels of commerce. At the same time, manual sales are rapidly decreasing.


I also came to understand that SJ not only talks the talk but walks the walk. By understanding (and mapping up) the customer’s needs throughout the entire journey they can better care for their customer’s needs and wants. SJ needed to understand their customers' travel needs and choice of transportation, how they buy their tickets – booking tickets and choosing a seat, their preferred way of paying for it. They needed to understand what their customers are doing before the journey – how they get to the train station, what they’re doing while at the station, how they find the right train departures. They needed to understand the travel itself – preferences and touchpoints at the train, etc. Lastly, they needed to understand what happens after the journey – how do their customers reflect on their journey – what happens when they’re happy versus not happy. How do they handle Recommendations? Complaints? Reclaims?

Lesson number 1. Technology is an enabler for better brand experiences but always start with the human perspective. 


During this process, the company noticed that customers already today want an answer here and now – regardless of the channel. The customers increasingly expect SJ to keep track of them and meet their particular situation, needs, and desires. Additionally, they distinguish between digital and physical to a lesser degree than before – which is on many other innovative companies' minds today. Furthermore, customers often compare them with the best available experiences out there, and not per se with their direct competitor.


In other words, the playing field has GROWN and will continue to do so.


Anyhow, let’s get back to how SJ continuously iterates to meet changing needs and behavior. Working customer-driven is a whole system where all components must work together. This means that SJ carefully analyzes input from the data they collect in order to gain the right insights that can be used to better the customer experience and optimize their strategies. There is a wide spectrum of activities to optimize such as pricing, products, services, segmentation, loyalty/CRM, concepts, etc.


So far, so good. But there are challenges to overcome.


Management buy-in, ownership and optimization of the organization all go hand in hand. In a big organization like SJ’s (4600 employees), this will usually be the case. Going through a transformation is obviously complex and will involve many departments that need guiding through the necessary changes. Defining how strategies, products, services, and experiences should evolve to grow your brand is not done in a jiffy. Furthermore, as we mentioned before, getting actionable insights from all interactions/ touchpoints is challenging and something that SJ has to continue on working with.


A few words from Gül Heper.


We got some great advice and inspiration from some of the best on how to challenge the management to dare to invest in the customer experience and to focus on actionable data. Some numbers from Bain & Company to put that in perspective:

Today, we learned that 93% of CEOs believe that a good customer experience will be critical for them to achieve their business goals in 2019….

80% of companies believe that they deliver optimal customer experience….

95% of the companies out there collect customer insights, 35% put together an action plan based on that information but only 10% act on it. 

95% of companies consider themselves to be customer-focused….

….but only 8% of their customers agree….


Like SJ has realized, a more holistic view is needed to understand how to identify the best customer experience and to differentiate in a competitive global market. The fact that Commercial and IT departments are often still divided and that they don’t share a common perspective worsens the situation. Companies that focus on a more holistic perspective whilst breaking down the barriers between departments will outperform traditional peers but it is clear that many organizations need guiding to succeed with the necessary changes.