Customer experience is rapidly becoming a key differentiator for companies across a wide range of markets and industries. One company that has invested heavily in ensuring their customer experience not only meets expectations, but helps inform product decisions and strategy discussions is SunGard.
SunGard, a leading software and technology services companies that provides solutions for financial services, education and the public sector, has long aimed to put its 16,000 customers from more than 100 countries first. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Milista Anderson to discuss the role of the CXO today, how new technologies are impacting the customer experience and the benefits that the company has realized by focusing on the customer.
Milista is the chief customer officer for SunGard’s Corporate Liquidity & Energy group, leading the organization in its voice of the customer program and retention strategies. She has more than 20 years of experience in the design, development and delivery of systems, processes and organizational infrastructures within software development. Prior to joining SunGard, she held leadership roles in software implementation, delivery and support at energy-related companies, El Paso Corporation and Dynegy, Inc.
Here is what Milista had to say:
RS: As a Chief Customer Officer and one of the founders of the Houston Local Networking Event Program of the Customer Experience Professional’s Association, experience is clearly something that you’re passionate about and are uniquely qualified to discuss. Before we jump in, can you give our readers some information about you and your impressive background?
Milista Anderson: As the Chief Customer Officer, it’s my responsibility to keep the company constantly focused on improving the customer experience. It ends up being a lot about process improvement. It’s our cultural development. It’s also part of establishing and sharing best practices. We’re trying to figure out where best practices exist across the organization and then cross pollinate that everywhere else in the organization so that we’re not constantly reinventing the wheel.
But it’s certainly in keeping with one of our four pillars – part of our value system – which is “put clients first.” It is definitely something that we take seriously and have adapted to that over the past several years. And recognize that we have to make some differentiation in the marketplace and realize that service and customer experience can be a differentiator.
So, the broad perspective of responsibility really is about finding and fixing problems and challenges and barriers that prevent us from providing a good customer experience.
In terms of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, that organization has been around for less than five years. I volunteered – once I met one of the cofounders at a conference – to take on starting a Houston representation.
It really has helped to not only bolster the SunGard name, but it has also shined a spotlight on the discipline of customer experience and illustrated how important it is in the marketplace today. It allows us to bring together like-minded professionals that can share best practices across different industries and really helps to grow and refine the practice of customer experience.
RS: In 2012, Loyalty360 did a video interview with you about customer engagement, customer experience and the importance of listening to the voice of the customer. Since 2012, online channels have exploded and companies have increasingly adopted social media as a way to engage customers. Do you feel this makes customer engagement and listening to the voice of the customer easier or more difficult?
Milista Anderson: It’s a little bit of both. It’s easier – in a sense – that it gives you more opportunities and ways to engage your customers with broader messages at a different level. It allows you to broadcast a lot of your messaging around company information, events, product releases, service offerings and other news. That certainly makes it easier.
The other side of that – and this is a good problem to have – is that keeping up with the volume of those interactions can be a challenge. And I think that it’s a challenge for any B-to-B company of our size. But that’s just part of the growth of those kinds of channels that are out there.
Managing these channels is about discerning the kinds of messages that are coming in, and what to do about them.
RS: That raises an interesting point. SunGard itself utilizes multiple online channels, including its corporate Website, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, to communicate and engage with customers. How do you manage customer engagement and experience on the company’s social channels?
Milista Anderson: It’s certainly an effort that we’ve made over the past few years to encapsulate all of the channels that are available. All of those channels are monitored for incoming feedback. First, we have to determine if the incoming data is an inquiry or comment. We have a lot of good analytics tools and ways to route things – especially if it’s an inquiry about a product or service – to the line of business that can handle that most appropriately.
If it’s a comment related to product support or feedback, best practices in customer experience would tell you to get those kinds of comments into the appropriate feedback channels. Every line of business that we have has a mechanism for dealing with product-related support comments, questions, inquiries, etc. that allows us to get them quickly into the ticketing system and get them handled.
That’s an investment that we’ve made overtime that allows us to respond to these comments and feedback.
RS: How has listening to the voice of the customer helped SunGard better serve its financial services customers?
Milista Anderson: I love this question – it’s something I love to talk about. One thing that is clear from all of our channels of customer communication – including customer satisfaction surveys – is a demand for ease of use. That’s a theme that comes up over and over again.
And we realize that our customer is just like you and me. We’re used to picking up a device that requires no manual to use, that is intuitive and can be easily figured out – all the functions and features – within a few minutes. That’s a theme that has come through loud and clear by listening to our customers. We need to ensure that the product is easy to use.
So, we’ve invested – and we’re continuing to invest – 15 percent of our topline revenue into making our products easier to use, own and operate. And that initiative comes directly from listening to our customers.
A great example of something we implemented to accommodate our users and their demand for more intuitive, easy to use products and services was the “Coder Cup.” This was a fun thing that was done over the past year. It was an internal contest implemented by our CTO to promote and drive innovation for usability and mobility.
It’s hard to know what impact these initiatives have had on customer satisfaction today since many of the changes designed to increase the ease of use and mobility of our products and solutions were implemented recently. However, we’re surveying our customers at the end of the year, and expect that the investment will pay dividends with increases in customer satisfaction.
Finally, we have something unique to us called “VOC Radio” or “Voice of the Customer Radio.” VOC Radio is set up like an interview on a radio talk show, where we ask a customer to tell us – our employee base – what their business is, how the company can better understand their business, how they utilize our products and services, and what a good customer experience is for them. It allows our employee base – especially those that aren’t necessarily customer-facing – to hear directly from the customer about what they can do to make the product and experience better for the customer.
RS: As it relates to managing your customer experience, what is SunGard’s main strategic initiative for 2015 and why? What are you hoping this initiative will achieve?
Milista Anderson: We’re very proud of the fact that we have a customer experience focus and the fact that we have –someone in a dedicated role in charge of that. There will always be a customer experience focus, and we’ll certainly have a particular initiative every year focused on improving our customer experience.
Ultimately, we’re working towards having customer experience as part of our DNA – in terms of the culture.
We will continue to make those investments that I talked about into the product and into the services. And we really want to focus on increasing the mobility and flexibility around our products. Those are the things that we’re heavily focused on – ease of use and mobility. And that’s something that our customers will absolutely and directly notice and benefit from.
The other thing that we’re focused on internally is harvesting the power of data and making sure that our workforce is enabled with the right tools to use the customer data we have to create a seamless experience for the customer. We don’t want to have to ask the customer to tell us things we should already know.
Internally, there is a focus on serving our customers better and providing a seamless, proactive and personalized experience for our customers. If we can make our products easier to own and operate, and we have good underlying data systems, we’ll be able to provide that seamless experience.
RS: What have been SunGard’s greatest challenges in its customer lifecycle? Engage? Convert? Retain?
Milista Anderson: We’ve always enjoyed a high retention and conversion rate. The engagement piece of that – creating compelling reasons to get people to engage with us – is difficult. We’ve struggled to get more engagement in our events, summits, Webinars, research and white papers, What we’ve found is that it’s not a lack of desire on their part. It’s a lack of time and budget. There’s just so much competition for their time and budget that it keeps them from participating in these activities.
Every year, we work to make these events and opportunities more compelling and engaging than it was the year before. We’re working to refine those channels to maximize their time and ensure that they get the most back from their engagement.