The French Juilliard School for customer and employee experience
I wanted to create the French Juilliard School for customer and employee experience.
In the last week of September 2023, Hotel Hermitage Barrière in La Baule, France, will welcome the 11th French Forum of Customer Experience. An annual event spanning several days, the ECTFF brings together around one hundred professionals to conduct a series of masterclasses and get the opportunity to meet peers and brands. The common subject in which they excel, break new ground or train : customer experience.
Here follows an interview with Manuel Jacquinet, founder of the event Expérience Client The French Forum.
Ten years ago, customer experience was rather a niche issue, only taken seriously by a small group of forward thinking experts like yourself. Now it has become a hot topic, a buzzword in the industry (CRM Meetings, etc.), how do you manage to keep the Forum’s original, pioneering spirit ?
Manuel Jacquinet : By sticking to my initial goal to grant a triple mission to this event : training, meeting and bearing witness to innovations, best practices and failures dealing with customer experience. The purpose of our Forum is far from just prospecting and speed-dating like in many other professional events, even if this kind of practice is also mandatory. People attend to hear CNRS researchers working on prosody and the ability to detect emotions through a conversation; to hear AI and data science specialists forecasting visitors or passengers flows, but also incivility treatment professionals and, in last year's case, ex-BRI policemen. Showing the ultimate research and innovations in France is at the core of the initial project. The conference team spends each year quite a bit of time identifying researchers, leaders, doers, who are often discreet but pushing forward the state-of-the-art. I believe we are like curators. Each edition can be seen as the result, at a specific date, of what should be considered the major themes related to customer experience.
How do you manage to refresh the format and change the topics over successive editions? Is customer experience a broad enough theme to provide enough evolution to keep this event lively?
Our first differentiating factor lies in the way we broaden the scope to the experience of patients, visitors, users, employees or travelers, thanks to my job as Editor-in-Chief of two specialized magazines, En-Contact and Les Cahiers de l’Expérience Client. These two beacons of the industry are extremely valuable. For instance, they can help people understand that some challenges or best practices in the travel or retail business can be exported to the luxury or medical sectors. The porosity of these fields of application regarding customer experience between various worlds is a key driver for the Forum renewal.
Nonetheless, to keep people surprised and interested, one should also hold certain beliefs and remain uninfluenced by current trends. Everyone predicted the voice would die or fade like the media. But, in fact, since the pandemic and times of confinement, it has never been more alive. These beliefs are formed by experience and reality in the field. Having been involved in the call center industry for 20 years, I always thought that the front line (i.e. call center agents, cashiers, delivery persons) were a key component of a successful customer experience. A client, patient, visitor or traveler’s experience cannot be smooth and well conducted without taking into account, seriously and sincerely, the employee experience. It’s obvious, there’s no care without caregivers, no repeat business without a smile, no seamless experience if the delivery person doesn’t have the door code. In many industries, it is the front-line workers who make customers come back.
Over time, these beliefs were enhanced by my personal passions : I go to the cinema, I love music and I read all the time. In short, I swallow up everything I can get my hands on. When Ken Loach released Sorry we missed you, I understood his work far earlier and better than others in regards to the importance of supply chain and the mistreated of delivery persons. When I listen to JJ Cale’s Sensitive Kind, the lyrics (“Don’t take her for granted, she has a hard time (..) Treat her so gently, it will pay you in time” ) make me realize that current marketing topics and priorities have been tackled and touched on by artists for a long time. Regarding satisfaction, emotion or consideration, I believe that there’s often more revealed in a single great record or movie than in an umpteenth webinar on the subject. Renewing oneself is often as simple as plunging into art and the daily life it depicts to remind oneself of the basics and fundamentals.
Have you seen an emergence of new champions and young talents in the field of customer experience? Do you look out for the latest trends and challenges?
I live in France, a country which is such a hub of innovations, experimentations, resources and talents that it naturally allows me to identify and to meet people who build tomorrow’s customer experiences. For this reason I created The French Forum ten years ago and named it so. Ever since, the standards have been set higher and higher by this beehive of future builders.
Amongst the half-dozen of promising gold nuggets I had the chance to discover, included Le Slip Français (an early participant and a champion of French-made underwear), Trainline (or ex-Captain Train, which dusted off online train tickets sales), Whoog (which has now become Hubo and solves one of the major pain points for the patient experience, i.e. staff shortages), and last but not least, Zaion (who have been supporting us for several years and who, on the high-potential call-bots segment, broke all the records with hundreds of thousands of calls actioned by the InfoCovid helpline). All these companies have honored us with their presence at one or several of our annual Forums.
What do you retain from the last ten years, punctuated each September by meetings and experiences shared in La Baule?
That my idea, to create the Juilliard School of customer experience, was a good one! It’s a democratic school whose motto goes hand in hand with requirement, multidisciplinarity and emotion. Firstly, like Juilliard, which is a democratic school where artists-to-be can also benefit from scholarships, I refuse that money becomes an excluding factor. Hence, I strive to adjust our pricing for very young companies who want to come to La Baule for a few days to learn and present themselves. So it’s a demanding discipline. One can’t win an Oscar or a Grammy Award just because one wants it, without any effort. And the same applies for the biggest maestros of customer experience.
It’s also provides a multidisciplinary training when mastering core subjects, including data science, supply chain, HR capital, sales and pre/after sales. These are basic methods which can help a young graduate make the difference between what is a must-have and what is a nice-to-have within a successful customer experience.
Then last but not least, it’s also an emotional vehicle. Just like a piece of music or a cinema scene, the impression, memory or state of mind which strikes us after a clear customer experience certifies its good quality. And more precisely and conclusively about emotions, I think the French have nothing to be ashamed of compared to the Anglo-Saxons. We deserved our own French version of the Juilliard School!
Any success stories or fun facts to share?
Yes, the choice of locating The French Forum at the Hotel Hermitage Barrière in La Baule. Last year, between two rain showers, we organized a bike ride to Batz-sur-Mer. The founder of Myopla and one of Orange Bank executives were deep in conversation and, seeing them getting to know each other and sharing their visions while cycling upwind, was exactly the kind of match I wished to create.
What ambitions, silly projects or surprises coan you disclose for the upcoming editions? For instance, what will ECTFF look like in 2028?
I imagine ECTFF will have become a South By SouthWest (SXSW) in the Loire country by the sea. And with a bit of luck, we’ll be producing and publishing books and original soundtrack of the Forum which, by then, will have evolved into a Festival. Indeed, the experience will start at Montparnasse railway station in Paris and a chartered train will stop at several stations before arriving at Escoublac.
Still, before we get to 2028, I have another major event — a version of ECTFF on the African continent. It will be held in Benin, in November 2023, and it’s called Africa BPO Forum. But I’m afraid I’ve got to go now. Mick Jagger is calling me : he’s really eager to play* in Benin for the first edition in November!
*The Rolling Stones have played several times in Africa, where they also recorded « Continental Drift » with the group Master Musicians of Jajouka.