A View from the Outside In – The Alan Pennington Interview

South African companies are becoming more and more customer centric. In October, nlighten hosted our most popular Experience by Design workshop to date – which was, as always, facilitated by our global guru in experience redesign, Alan Pennington.

We caught up with Alan after the workshop – somewhere between Dubai and London – to tell us more about a life in customer experience.
Alan Pennington
n. Taking a cue from your workshop, what is the one thing most people don’t know about you?

AP I’m becoming typecast on stage as the villain in Christmas pantomimes. Can’t imagine why!

n. What first drew you to a career in customer experience?

AP I have always been passionate about customers. My first ever job was as a bank teller. I took a little longer serving customers compared to the other tellers, but engaged with them, making their transactions more fun. Of course, if they were in a hurry, we just got on with the transaction. The result was a queue at my till – even if the other tellers were free. That’s when I realised, customers vote with their feet. It’s more about how you do things than what you do that makes the difference.

n. How did your partnership with nlighten come about?

AP Nathalie (Schooling, nlighten’s CEO) and I had tracked each other’s progress from afar. The world of true customer experience professionals is still pretty small – even globally. We then met in London at the ECEW (European Customer Experience World) event in 2010. We realised that what we did individually could be stronger for our customers if we worked together – and Experience by Design was born. Things have moved on since then and, after we sold Mulberry Consulting, I was delighted to team up with Nathalie, Brendon and their team to build on our success in South Africa.

n. What role do you believe the customer will play in business 15 years from now?

AP Increasingly, savvy customers will demand more – and they have even greater access to the experiences of others as they make decisions. My teenagers have a very different expectation to me – and trust me, they are even more demanding than I am when it comes to their customer experience expectations. They were born into a digital age, so they have a completely different mindset to that of current global corporation Executives. It presents leaders with an interesting challenge – not to hold their companies back because they don’t understand the younger generation’s needs. That said, with the world’s ageing population profile, there will still be enough of us oldies around to keep them busy, too!

n. How did Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) come about?

AP We at Mulberry were amongst the frontrunners in CJM fifteen years ago. At the time, CJM was seen as nice but not essential. Over the years, the corporate world has caught on to the importance of understanding the customer view from the “outside in”. So CJM is rapidly becoming an essential part of the good Strategy Director’s armoury. Of course, CX software has been catching up, too.

n. What is the future of Customer Journey Mapping?

AP The future is about experience by design rather than mapping. CJM will help shape experience redesigns. Mapping and experience design software will continue to develop – and will no doubt become embedded in all the mainstream IT solutions or platforms. Using tools like CJM to evaluate, prioritise and capture what we all really want to do, which is to improve experiences through customer-driven design.

n. What has been your experience of South Africa as a brand?

AP In customer experience terms, South Africa is a few years behind the leading nations – it’s still coming to terms with the need to fully engage with the customer component of strategy. I look forward to the more adventurous companies truly embracing the customer component of their business strategy.

n. If you could give South African businesses one piece of advice, what would it be?

AP Learn the lessons. Coming to the party a little later means you can avoid the mistakes of the early adopters – we at nlighten can act as advisors and educators – helping you to reach success quickly!

nlighten’s Experience by Design workshop for 2016 will be held in Cape Town on 10 November.

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