CX Design Thinking in the Travel Industry, With Annette Höher-Bäuerle – CB64

Episode Overview

Annette Höher-Bäuerle went from being internal legal counsel at the Thomas Cook Group to leading all of Customer Experience globally.  Her skills and long tenure with the company led her to use agile design thinking to prove and implement changes in the customer experience — to gain traction and drive real sustainable improvement.  Listen in to hear how she used Google’s 1-day design thinking to implement a 24-hour service promise that led the way for all future work.

About Annette

Annette is the Group Customer Experience Director for the Thomas Cook Group.
She has been with Thomas Cook for nearly 15 years in very different roles, starting as a corporate lawyer focusing on cross-border Mergers & Acquisitions. In 2010, she decided to leave the legal field with the aim to move closer to the actual operations and to focus on putting the customer first.
After leading the Customer Relations team for Thomas Cook in Germany she built up and developed an industry-leading Quality Management function for the whole Group with a focus on continuously improving the companies’ hotel portfolio and helping hotels to improve their quality and their customer experience by working actively with Customer feedback.
In 2015 she built up the new area of Customer Experience from scratch.
Annette is responsible for Thomas Cook’s overall customer experience strategy and road map with a clear focus on the cultural transformation as well as designing the end-to-end customer journey. She leads an international team across Europe which is responsible for the development and implementation of the CX Roadmap across various markets and functions. She is a regular speaker at CX events and conferences across Europe.
She studied in Frankfurt (Germany) & Madrid (Spain) and lived and worked in London for three years. In addition to her law degree she also has a postgraduate degree in business administration (focus on marketing). Annette speaks English and Spanish fluently. She likes to run and is a passionate photographer.

Building A Maturity Model

With the help of a boutique London firm + Forrester research around customer experience + customer interviews + employee interviews from all over the hierarchy, Annette and her team built out a maturity model for customer experience. Their first re-assessment of where they are will occur at the end of this year, and they hope to have a fully mature model by the end of 2019. You can think of the model as a snapshot, based on information from multiple touchpoints (this ties into her legal background), of where the customer journey is across different business models — and where it needs to arrive at.

The maturity model looks different in different areas of a business, as you’d expect. The responses run from “This is great work and we totally get it” to “This is stuff we all know” to, even, “Why are you focusing on this?”

One time in a board meeting as the maturity model was starting to be developed, Annette actually said “Sexy has to wait until after Year 1.” This is a key point: any work on customer experience is a marathon and not a 100-meter sprint. Sometimes in companies, people want to see a hot new thing off the bat at all times, instead of putting in the work necessary to grow the idea.

The Capabilities

  • Customer strategy
  • Insight
  • Design
  • Measurement
  • Delivery
  • Culture

Those were the six elements they were discussing with all stakeholders (Board, C-Suite, employees, etc.).

Because Thomas Cook deals with customers on holiday — a very important time in someone’s year — Annette was very careful to clearly define pain points. It made it a little bit easier because most of the stakeholders she was presenting to have been on holiday (and will go again this year), so they see the value in maximizing the work Thomas Cook is doing.

“Quick wins” were important. They launched a 24-hour promise product within Destination. At first, people were not on board. They thought it would cost too much, etc. But it did address a major customer experience pain point. They launched it on a smaller scale in some hotels, and saw an increase of NPS/customer satisfaction scores. It did NOT cost a lot of money. They scaled it out; in summer 2017 it’s in 3,000+ hotels. Quick wins can overcome doubt. Go for them.

(Listen within the interview for exactly how bold the 24-hour promise program was in terms of financing and potential cost on their end. But it worked!)

Growing The Business

They actually recently opened two “bohemian beach hotels,” a concept normally reserved for cities. The beach hotels in this version brought them 75-80% new customers, which helped grow the business into segments who wouldn’t normally vacation with Thomas Cook. Always look for growth opportunities.

Design Thinking Method

The process looks a bit like this:

  • Invite customers
  • Focus on one customer issue
  • Discuss
  • Gather insights
  • Prototype

They often fast-track that process into one day (yes, day), but it also can occur over a number of months as well.

Two of the one-day processes were facilitated by employees from Google Germany (Google is a pioneer in one-day design thinking methods), and three of the one-day processes were facilitated by her team. One key focus is making sure different departments/silos are invited.

“You Can’t Communicate Enough”

Crucial point Annette makes a few times during this episode. Remember: there will always be someone asking “What is she working on?” Create a road map, and keep bringing people back to the road map. Simple, clear, and continues to go back to what was initially laid out.

“Customer Weeks”

One week a year in every market/office, the entire focus is on customer experience and customer journey. Two years ago, about 200-300 people attended the various sessions. This past year, it was 800+. This has been a major communication touchpoint, as has some of the standard plays like the Intranet, email blasts, etc. “We still need to communicate in a more structured way,” she does admit.

“The Pay-It-Forward” Question

What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN? Annette’s answers:

  • Never communicate enough: A CCO is inherently a communications role. You need to know where other people are, and explain where you are. Constantly.
  • This is a big change program: All CCO work is. “This is such a great new thing,” you think, “so why doesn’t everyone love it?” Well, not everyone is comfortable with change. You need to consistently remember this, work with them, communicate, and give them the time to become comfortable.

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