How Brands Show Up For Customers: Why CX Is "Basically Business"

NCA's new co-heads of CX, Lauren McLaughlin and Struan Wood, on closing the gap between advertising and the reality that customers experience

By conor nichols

As a discipline within advertising, customer experience has been knocking around in some shape or form for a while. But increased customer focus and ever-evolving data and technology advancements has taken CX to a new level for brands in recent years and customers should now be experiencing the same level of service and delivery across the thousands of touchpoints that now exist for brands.

Ensuring that brands are represented at the highest level across the entire customer journey is a mission that New Commercial Arts baked into its business model and promise to its clients when it launched in 2020. The agency’s work for clients such as Nando’s, Nationwide, Sainsbury’s and MoneySuperMarket exists as proof of the ambition NCA has to combine creativity and customer experience.

Rob Curran, the founder and chief experience officer at NCA, is constantly driving to enhance the agency’s CX capabilities, and has just promoted Lauren McLaughlin and Struan Wood to co-heads of CX.

Both McLaughlin and Wood worked with Curran at Wunderman Thompson (now VML) before joining him at NCA. They have spent their careers leading CX efforts for clients, working across a wide range of sectors, helping to find, define, and solve meaningful problems and opportunities within a brand’s experience and innovating new proprietary CX methods. At NCA McLaughlin has worked on CX for Sainsbury’s and Nando’s, while Wood has led the CX team on Nationwide and MoneySuperMarket.

In their new role they will continue to innovate on NCA’s methods and impact, as well as new ways to combine real customer experience creativity with world-class communication. Curran says of the duo: “I’ve had the privilege of working with Struan and Lauren since hiring them as interns. There are simply no two better people at leading CX work in the industry. They are both searingly talented and excel at what matters most to us – the real hard yards of CX work, the work that makes things tangibly better for customers and brands.”

We caught up with McLaughlin and Wood to discuss their ambitions for NCA, the evolution of CX and the responsibilities their new roles will entail.

Creative Salon: Congratulations on your new roles - what new challenges do you expect to have as co-heads of CX?

Struan Wood: First off, dealing with the amount of LinkedIn spam you get. Didn’t realise the virtue of a vague job title until now. Second, and this might sound silly, but as the work obviously stays the same, the only change I’ve felt is now realising there’s a bit more of a formal responsibility to take care of our offering and our team. It’s not a new responsibility, but does now feel slightly more serious. Does this mean I need to wear a tie?

Lauren McLaughlin: We’re on the same page here. Whether it’s working out how we maintain the standards we’ve set or how we grow and develop a team that sees their best work happening at NCA, it feels less like there are new challenges rather it's the same, everyday challenges with the pressure turned up a few notches.

CX is baked into NCA's offering. How important do you think CX is within the industry and for clients?

McLaughlin: For clients, it has to be one of their top priorities. How brands show up for customers, whether it’s a line of copy or a checkout screen on a website, is where customers (and their business) are won and lost. We’re lucky at NCA that we work with clients who understand this. For the industry, it’s hugely significant but it's fair to say that CX’s significance has been slow to be recognised. The fact that NCA’s offering is still unique shows the existing gap between advertising and the reality that customers experience day in and day out.

Wood: I honestly struggle with questions asking how important CX is, because to me CX is basically business. It’s whether your customers bought from you in the first place, if they think they get what they pay for, and whether they’ll buy from you again. So to clients it’s the quality of their business, and in the industry it’s the responsible way of doing business - it’s helping clients with their bottom line.

What makes NCA's CX offering outstanding?

McLaughlin: First, I think our unique experience, despite CX being a relatively young industry; Rob - our founder, Struan and I have worked together for the last 8 years, so we’re old in CX years.

And secondly but more importantly, it’s the team we have (I know everyone says that but we back it up). Some of our team are obsessed with finding problems in experiences and others are world-class designers who create experiences that truly deliver on the promises set out by our clients. The breadth in skillset is our differentiator.

Wood: I mean, very kind of the question to say that we are outstanding! We’re obviously very proud of the work we do here, but we know we can’t rest on our laurels and constantly have to keep developing and advancing it. For me, it’s the way we can work across what would be siloes in other businesses. It takes a bunch of talented people, the right balance of patience and flexibility and a lot of trust to be able to collaborate with other skill sets constantly.

Lauren, tell us in a little more detail about a piece of work you’ve done with Sainsbury’s and Nando’s that exemplifies the power of CX

McLaughlin: I think the power of our CX at least is the urgency it creates in a business to draw a red line for ‘bad’ experiences and to get going on making things better. So, whether it's designing sauce pumps for Nando's that help bring enjoyment back into their restaurant experience, or defining the role of in-store communications for Sainsbury’s across the UK, it's all born from the same place of customers deserving the best experiences - we just have to get it to them.

Struan, could you also tell us in a little more detail about a piece of work you’ve done with Nationwide and MoneySuperMarket that exemplifies the power of CX

Wood: The power of CX. Sounds a little dramatic. But to be serious briefly, I think the power is the range that it covers. Obviously we can find and fix a lot of real problems customers face, and that’s normally how I describe my job to my parent’s friends who still don’t really know what I do. But it can range from the present day problem through to the future solutions. That can be Nationwide and the rebrand we did - helping realise a vision for how a building society can look and apply that through every touchpoint. And it can also be more visionary, like what we’ve just completed with MoneySuperMarket, which is looking how that platform will develop over the next few years to try and completely change the customer model of that industry.

What's next for NCA and CX?

Wood: We’ve been quietly building and developing an incredibly talented team, so for me what’s next is where they take us. I don’t think I could predict what is going to be our case study project for the year, and I think that’s incredibly exciting.

McLaughlin: For me, as long as brands continue to realise the importance of delivering great customer experiences and there’s ‘bad cx’ out there, we’ll continue to have a job on our hands. And while our core beliefs about the importance of CX won’t change - everything else is up for grabs which means we’ll no doubt continue to grow in more interesting and better ways.


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