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Justin Neale

Justin Neale on the differentiator of customer experience

By Justin Neale

Principal Consultant & Managing Director - Innovate CX

Recalling being given an engine as his eighth birthday present, it’s clear that Justin Neale has always relished fixing and improving things.

In his professional career, that enjoyment of enhancing the way that things work has transpired into product management, particularly the processes of customer experience. Graduating from the University of Bath with a physics degree, Justin quickly moved into corporate life and subsequently spent 25 years in specialist customer strategy roles including a period at Airbus where he became UK Managing Director of their NAVBLUE subsidiary.

Now, driven by an aspiration to help smaller companies, Justin has established Innovate CX – his own consultancy specialising in transforming customer journeys and maximising customer experience as a differentiator for businesses.

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You’ve worked for some big organisations like Airbus, what lessons have you taken from those experiences that you're bringing into your own business?

I think it's all about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Everyone has a customer, wherever they are in the organisation, and people sometimes lose sight of the fact that they’re all delivering to a customer. The biggest message is helping people to remember what it's all about and why are they doing it.

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What’s the Innovate CX concept?

What I’m building my consultancy around is helping businesses to really think about the customer journey they provide.

That includes coaching and mentoring – I’m helping people in senior customer experience roles and giving them the confidence and the tools to manage a customer support team; giving them a bit more of a strategic view of how to scale their companies.

I work with businesses that want to differentiate their customer experience. It’s not me telling people what to do, it’s helping to bring people to their own conclusions about what they need to change in their business. A lot of those things can be at no cost at all, it’s just introducing different ways of thinking about what will attract and retain customers.

How do you assess a company’s customer experience?

It’s a structured process to tease out how they do things and to understand how they work in terms of their operations, particularly how they work from one handover point to another.

I go through the very beginning of the customer journey to the very end and look at all of those touch points – what they are doing and how they work together – looking at what’s good and where there are opportunities for improvement.

"Outstanding customer service comes from those companies that constantly question how they're doing things; constantly evolve the experience and don't sit still."

What does a good customer journey look like? Where have you come across outstanding customer experience?

The Old Bond Store is a great example. Outstanding customer service comes from those companies that constantly question how they’re doing things; constantly evolve the experience and don’t sit still. Those that are good at taking that step back from the business and putting themselves back in the customer’s shoes. It’s the businesses that make it so easy to do business with, you almost don’t notice you’re doing business with them – they’re almost anticipating your needs before you’ve even realised you need something.

What I often see is that as companies grow, they don’t scale that personal service with the business so the customer experience erodes over time. That’s usually when I can help – to take what’s unique about a business and make it scalable so that a business can grow without ruining that customer experience and what made your customers love you in the first place.

How do you walk the line between improving customer service through harnessing technology, whilst still maintaining a human experience?

Most customers love to be able to get help as soon as they need it, and if they can do it themselves through self-service then they will – that’s where AI can be amazing. You don’t always have to get in touch with someone and go through a convoluted process.

AI is the co-pilot, taking care of some of the mundane repetitive tasks, and it gives you insights into a business that will be hard to see manually. Offshoring some of those things that machines are better at and enabling people to spend more time doing higher-value activities.

What do you think the future holds in terms of customer experience?

I think customer experience has declined every year for the past five years, especially in the UK, but also globally, because when there’s economic uncertainty, businesses tend to cut customer service.

It’s now much harder and more expensive to win new customers, so businesses are slowly realising that selling to their existing customers is the easiest source of revenue.

All the big venture capitalists who invest in businesses are looking at customer lifetime value and customer retention now, much more than they used to. If you’re doing a great job of retaining your customers, your valuation as a business is much higher.

Customer retention and growing customer loyalty means you don’t have to spend as much money and time on sales and marketing. I think there’s going to be a shift in focus away from just selling to thinking more about how to keep your customers happy.

"It's now much harder and more expensive to win new customers, so businesses are slowly realising that selling to their existing customers is the easiest source of revenue."

Justin Neale - Principal Consultant & Managing Director, Innovate CX

How do you enjoy spending your time outside of work?

I enjoy home life – I have a lovely wife, two children, a dog, and chickens. I love fixing things and building things. I’m a serial hobbyist and I enjoy trying new things from watersports (I’ve just taken up wing foiling) to pottery and beekeeping at home.

Where do you go when you need to get some headspace?

I’d probably go for a long run with the dog up Old Winchester Hill.

Justin portrait