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Ahead of the AI and Big Data Leaders Summit Hong Kong 2019, we recently held an interview with Cristiane Ross. As the Director of Customer Experience, Cristiane wears many hats overseeing client experience, corporate accounts and sustainability for The Pure Group. Passionate, driven and creative, she sets the direction of all customer interactions, improving engagement at different touchpoints to enhance the customer journey. She designed and leads Pure’s Corporate Program, which represents 40% of sales, cementing Pure as the wellness partner of choice for corporate clients.
 
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your role at Pure Group. Why did you choose Asia as the region for your career path in recent years?
 
I was born and raised in Goiania, a capital in mid-west Brazil and have always been curious about the world and what was beyond my own horizon. I asked my mom to enrol me in English lessons when I was 7 and have carved out my path, going out of the ordinary, pushing for what was out of my norm.
 
I thrive in environments where I can learn, develop and evolve and this drive has taken me to the US for college and work and it has also been the fuel to my desire to move to Hong Kong in 2007 without ever visiting Asia. I didn’t have a job, but had a few interviews lined up. 
 
Fast forward to 12+ years later, I’m still in Hong Kong and for nearly a decade I have played an active role in my company's – The Pure Group – extraordinary growth, from 12 to now 35 locations across Asia; implementing a customer centric culture, negotiating corporate deals, managing the brand's reputation and risk, and launching the group's sustainability strategy.
 
What is customer experience according to you? What are your key objectives for customer experience at Pure Group?
 
Customer Experience as a discipline includes all interactions a customer has with a brand at all steps of the decision-making process. From traditional, above the line advertising, to a targeted location-based ad, to an onsite visit experience, to post-purchase engagement, to all the touchpoints they go through as they continue to use the services and so forth. 
 
I look at Customer Experience as building and nurturing a relationship with the client. I want it to be a long-term connection, but it could be as short as one visit (one trial). Relationships are built on experiences. Delivering positive experience will lead to a positive, uplifting relationship and conversely, a negative experience will chip away that connection.
 
My goal is to create a positive emotional bond with our clients. I focus on initiatives that foster a sense of community and long-term relationship. Maya Angelou wisely said; “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
 
In our case, it is a challenge as we have over 900+ clients coming through our locations daily. I support our front-line team offering them guidance to ease their daily job. They play a crucial role in delivering a positive experience to our clients in their visits to our clubs. 
 
In what ways do today’s modern consumers interact with your brand? What do you think has changed about relationships between companies and their customers since the advance of technology?   
 
O2O (Online to Offline) is the reality and we consider our clients’ interactions beyond the times they physically visit our centres. We work to ‘be there when they need us’. We’ve done that well with Pure Yoga; offering online content through MPY - MyPureYoga; outdoor community yoga activities with Yoga For All events; and more offline engagement in the airport and on the place via our collaboration with Cathay Pacific. Clients can now practice yoga and meditation pre and during flight; visiting ‘The Sanctuary by Pure Yoga’ at The Pier Business lounge in HK Airport or through a series of videos named ‘Travel Well with Yoga’ available in the inflight entertainment, designed to help improve circulation, joint mobility and reduce stress during long flights.
 
Technology enables a plethora of information at customers’ fingertips. For new customers, they do their homework; they seek others’ opinions, read comments and reviews across several digital platforms. We see that friends or peers’ recommendations (word of mouth) have gained more strength as a key factor for consideration and credibility. By the time they come to us, they have high expectations.
 
They expect quick replies and they want to get as much information as possible before coming in. Here too we aim to bridge the gap between offline to online. We believe there’s a lot more than just the price tag and we want the chance to have the face to face and personal interaction with those potential new clients, so we always encourage them to come in for a visit or a trial.
 
For existing customers, they too expect quick responses and solutions to their queries and they’re comparing us to a wide range of other service providers like Uber, Grab, MyFitnessPal, Spotify; not just traditional direct competitors. This is a good thing as it keeps us on our toes and gets us to be thinking ahead.
 
How are you driving improvements for the customer experience at your company? (adapting to mobile, social media chats, incorporating AI) any examples?
 
We are a lifestyle service company and we pay attention to deliver an experience that will resonate with our clients whenever they interact with our brands; be it joining Pure Yoga or having lunch at nood food or buying a new set of leggings at Pure Apparel. This intention drives the technology that is needed.  
 
For example, we developed our own app which we deliberately launched with simple functions because customer research indicated that booking classes was the key driver for clients to download and use the app. We included a ‘Contact Us’ button to make easier for clients to ask questions and connect. We are now moving on to the next phase of development with more functions that will integrate other business units and offerings, driven by findings from additional ethnographic research. 
 
As many clients also actively engage with us on social media, we use a chatbot for frequently asked questions, but we also have a dedicated colleague monitoring and adding a personal touch. 
 
The latest initiative we’re implementing is a Customer Management Software to help us be more efficient in receiving, logging, routing and timely addressing the hundreds of messages we receive daily.
 
Since taking over the Corporate division at Pure Group in 2014, what new processes and standards have you implemented to increase corporate sales?
 
I went back to the basics of B2B dynamics and took my time to reconnect and rekindle the relationship with my corporate clients. I met with each of the top key accounts, reviewed what we had done in the past and worked with my Corporate Account Manager to propose new activities and events that were tailored for them. 
 
There has been a shift globally to the topic of employee wellness and welfare and this has become criteria by which companies are judged as an employer of choice.
 
Corporate Wellness is not just a buzz; it is relevant and there is research to back it up. Investing in staff wellbeing – physical and mental – is good for business. It leads to higher employee satisfaction, a stronger sense of belonging, a healthier workforce which means less absenteeism and can also lead to a more productive workforce. 
With that in mind, we take a holistic approach to the activities proposed. For example, instead of a regular 60min Hatha Yoga Class, we may suggest a shorter workshop with specific yoga breathing and movements tailored to office workers, designed for quick stress release and regain calm and focus. We may also recommend our revamped Fitness Assessment, which goes beyond body measurements and BMI but also look at mobility and range of motion of neck, shoulders and hip flexors; which are areas that tend to be tight and take most of the burden for office staff.
 
What is the importance of omnichannel integration when it comes to customer experience? How do you ensure a seamless experience across various platforms at Pure Group?
 
It is significant and it drives a lot of our strategies bringing together marketing, customer experience and technology. Currently, we are consistent with the overall direction of our communication, but the content is tailored to fit the purpose we want in each platform. I.e. We may push more Try Us Out messages aimed at new clients on Facebook but promote sharing of customers’ own content on our Instagram; encouraging them to post a photo of a recent blissful session they had.  
 
We have developed our own client management and mobile app platforms and we are in the process to tie in all these interactions through our Pure360 Lifestyle App with the aim to offer a more integrated omnichannel experience. We are not there yet, but our goal is to have a range of pertinent functionalities in our Pure360 App. We want our customers to be inspired (with fresh relevant content and encouraging their own sharing); informed (providing news, wellbeing tips, tutorials and service updates); encourage them to take action (buying new services, renew their package, gift Pure to others, refer their friends) and offer convenience and efficiency for the daily tasks that matter to them (booking and attending classes, checking in, tracking their visit record and progress). For mainland China, we are also working to have these via our WeChat mini-sites. 
 
What role does data, analytics and customer insights play in your customer experience strategy? Do you use any tools to empower your decision making? 
 
Data has always been an important building block on our business strategy. We have a lot of data on customer usage patterns and it is a significant factor on key business decisions that have a direct impact on clients’ experience – i.e. Where to add more classes? How many are needed? What’s the demand for a specific type of classes, from which we can infer the appetite for new programmes (new modalities in both yoga and fitness) instead of just blindly implementing them. 
 
Data continue to play a bigger role as we grow, and we recently hired a Customer Insight Executive to my team to dig deeper into the vast amount of data beyond just usage. We’re looking for models and profiles we can’t quickly spot on the surface. The analysis will help us be more precise when reaching out to potential new customers but even more importantly, will enable us to understand clients’ behaviour better, so we can customize our messages and know when we should we engage to prevent them from drifting apart. We are just getting started in our data-driven journey and we are all very excited about the possibilities.
 
In your opinion, what is the importance of customer loyalty programmes in bettering the customer experience? Do you use loyalty programs at Pure Group? If so, did it prove to be successful in securing customer loyalty?
 
We are not proponents of these type of programmes as we don’t believe they drive loyalty. Customers will not stay just because they get points. We understand our clients have a choice and we truly appreciate their support, choosing to stay with Pure. Loyalty is a behaviour, driven by cumulative, repeated positive experiences. We show our appreciation for our customers’ loyalty with different strategies that include exclusive customized gifts to long term clients; an invitation to exclusive events; unexpected surprises at club level and inviting them to take part in some discussions to get their feedback on potential new products or services we may consider.
 
Can you talk a bit about your localisation strategy - how do you deliver a locally/culturally relevant customer experience? 
 
The overall strategy of the programmes, campaigns and the different initiatives mentioned previously are orchestrated regionally but we work with the teams in each city, taking their recommendations and suggestions as to what customization is needed to implement some of these in a way that it is relevant to our customers in Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. This is true for our Marketing, Sales and Customer Experience Strategies.
 
The type of events or the onsite activities are only meaningful if they resonate with the clients, therefore adapting the strategies to fit the local flavour (in some cases literally!) is just as important as the execution of the activity itself.
 
We are of course mindful of the different platforms that are available especially in Shanghai and Beijing and the campaigns and engagement activities are tailored to suit them.
 
Let’s touch upon the role of technology and the question of whether it is de-humanising the CX. How do you think we can avoid this? How can brands build the human touch into their digital strategies and build an emotional connection to ensure customers still feel valued? 
 
Our goals as Customer Experience and Marketing professionals is to create an emotional connection with the customer. Technology is a tool that can help us deliver the right experience, but we still need to apply the basic principles of customer relations: know our customers, understand their needs and expectations, map out what kind of relationship we want to develop with them. 
 
In our own business (at Pure), many processes could be automated but it’s not about using technology for the sake of it. The strategy that enhances the customer experience is the driver for what technology to choose.
 
For example, we implemented check-in via QR code generated through our Pure360 Lifestyle App, which has proved to be a more efficient process. However, we still have our front desk team, because that daily interaction, as brief as it may be, adds a human connection to our highly virtual, isolated lives. The challenge is to get the right balance between high tech and high touch.
 
Cristiane is the speaker of the upcoming Digital Marketing Leaders Summit Hong Kong 2019. To find out more about her presentation, please click here.

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