Thomas Fairbairn, Author at Awards International


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnNovember 11, 20193min100

Last Friday, we enjoyed a memorable UK Business Awards at the Park Plaza Riverbank in London.

To see the full list of winners, click here.


UK Business Awards - Overall Winner Strata


As many of the judges said when announcing the Awards, the standard of entries was incredibly high. Don Hales, Awards International Chairman, pointed out that the quality of submissions and presentations seems to rise each year!

Throughout the morning, finalists presented their initiatives in front of independent judging panels. The 18 categories covered everything from innovation through to well-being at work, and each one was a hard-fought competition for first place.

Once their presentations were over, guests had the chance to connect with everyone else in attendance, sharing ideas and forging new connections. It’s always great to see our finalists making the most of the networking opportunities, and last Friday was no exception!

Then, in the afternoon, it was time for the Awards ceremony. Hosted by mind-blowing magician Ben Hart, we were treated to some extraordinary displays of magic. Everyone will have had their favourite trick – for me, it was when he linked three rings together into a chain!

Special mention must go to: the Holly Private Hospital, who followed up their strong performance at the UK Employee Experience Awards with two Gold Awards, and Strata, who took home two Gold Awards and were the Overall Winner at the event.

Next year, we’re moving the date of the Awards to 9th July. We hope you can join us – entries will be opening on 2nd December 2019.


Entries are currently open for the UK Complaint Handling Awards and UK Employee Experience Awards – take your first steps to awards success today!

For more business stories from Awards International, click here


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnNovember 6, 20193min2130

To some, ‘complaint’ is a dirty word. It’s the acknowledgement that something has not gone perfectly with your product or service. Some organisations think this isn’t a cause for publicity.

But at Awards International, we think differently. In fact, it’s a mark of maturity for companies to acknowledge their complaints – and seek recognition for their accomplishments in this area. Customers know companies aren’t perfect. They can respond negatively to an opaque organisation that presents itself as infallible.

Besides, top companies acknowledge that a good complaint handling strategy is a key pillar of the customer experience. To become known as a truly customer-centric organisation, you need to own the entirety of the customer experience – and that includes your ability to handle complaints.

We’re proud to organise the UK’s only awards programme dedicated to complaint handling. On 5th March 2020, we’ll be welcoming hundreds of CX professionals to a full-day event. Throughout the day, finalists will present in front of independent judging panels, then in the evening there’ll be a glamorous dinner and awards ceremony.


Click here to enter the UK Complaint Handling Awards 2020


Once an organisation realises their complaint strategy is a cause for celebration, new opportunities will arise. By attending the Awards, you’ll be able to network with some of the UK’s top complaint handlers, meeting fascinating people and potentially picking up new business. You can also attend open presentations, where companies will be bringing their initiatives to life and explaining how they successfully handled complaints.

In today’s business world, consumers expect authenticity and integrity from their brands. Entering the UK Complaint Handling Awards is the best way to show that you care about, and act on, customer feedback.

So own your complaint handling success, and enter the Awards today!


To enter the UK Complaint Handling Awards 2020, click here

For more Awards International stories on customer experience, click here







Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnNovember 5, 201910min1780

Last week, I caught up with Steve Elvins, Senior Director Global Digital Engagement at Thermo Fisher Scientific. 

He assessed entries and presentations in the Customer Centric Culture category at this year’s UK Customer Experience Awards, and we discussed what it means to judge with Awards International.


How did you find out about judging with Awards International?

I actually got contacted by Lisa via Linkedin, seeing if I was interested in being a judge. I’ve been asked to do a few things in the past for Awards International and other companies, and I always made an excuse not to do it! But it came at a good time and I decided to get involved.


What did you make of the two-step judging process?

It was good. Once you get into it, it’s fine. The written piece can be a challenge but the presentation helps to put more detail around it so you get a real sense of the company and the people in it. Initially, when you’re doing the written version, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing and scoring in the right way. I did a lot of reworking, going back over my scores and making sure I was comfortable. After that, it was good to follow up with the presentation, to get more insight, be able to ask questions. It’s sometimes difficult to write something like that in a way that captures the imagination, so to be able to learn about the initiative in a presentation really helps. 

On the panel, I met some really good contacts who I’m now connecting with. From a judging perspective, I met a diverse range of people within the field that I was able to discuss ideas and thoughts with, so that was certainly a positive experience on the day.


What did you learn about customer experience? 

It was really interesting to see the diverse nature of creating those customer experiences. There were very diverse organisations, from automotive repairs to a company that provides baby clothes. They were very different businesses, but all trying to look after the customer in a different way. I think my takeaway was appreciating the ability to really put the customer at the core. A lot of companies talk about that, but the ones that were really successful were able to make a real shift in the organisation, with the leadership pushing it and backing it throughout the organisation to make real change. 

Ultimately, Solus won our category (and overall) because they did exactly that. I think in a bigger organisation, that sponsorship, drive and buy-in from the organisation that change has to happen was a takeaway for me.

Another interesting thing was looking at Mum & You, and considering how that company would face challenges as it grew. So being able to have that one-to-one contact with their customers, creating a community, was really interesting. Some of us who sit in big organisations can sometimes struggle with how we get our arms around the customer, so it was interesting to see how a small company was starting to get into that bigger side and how they were going to handle that.

Another takeaway that I had very strongly was from CODE Students, who quite clearly had put the student experience at the heart of what they were doing, and they talked having psychologists available for students. There was another company that also had an on-site psychologist for their employees: not just people talking about mental health, but actually seeing mental health become part of everyday occurrence for employees in order to better serve customers. That was quite a powerful thing I picked up from a number of the submissions. 


Did you enjoy the fact that the Awards are cross-sector?

100%. It was a real upside to see how other companies and industries were tackling a challenge that we’re all facing – adapting to customer requirements and making sure that we’re differentiating ourselves in that way.

Seeing how other companies from different sectors – but also of different sizes – are handling that was really interesting. 


Register your interest for the UK Customer Experience Awards 2020 today!


Solus, winner of Steve’s category and Overall Winner at the UK Customer Experience Awards


What feedback do you have for the presenters?

A couple of things: bring in all the stakeholders who experienced change within the organisation – as many as you can. Solus brought in the engineers to be part of the presentation. We asked them some questions at the end, and they were able to back up what the leadership team were saying. 

It wasn’t just a leader saying ‘look at how great we are!’ The engineers, the people that bought in to what they were trying to do, were all in the room. I think that showed an organisation that bought into the vision of what they were trying to achieve. Using your stakeholders in the right way is very powerful. 

I also think that companies should focus on what the outcomes were. There was obvious passion from everyone, the businesses were clearly doing well, but in some of the written submissions, and even in some of the presentations, you didn’t get a sense of what they meant for the business. Ultimately, most of those businesses had to create a healthy bottom line in order to exist and reinvest, but we didn’t always get a sense of the benefits they were telling us about. For the smaller businesses, who may not be so focused on that every day, or maybe it’s just not such a big part of what they do, I think they could think about it a little more.


What was your overall impression of the judging experience?

Overall, it was fantastic. If you love customer experience, if you’re in that industry and you’re passionate about it, hearing from other people working in that industry and the progress they’ve made is very inspiring. Hearing people talk about the businesses they obviously love (some of them were family-owned) was really inspiring.

Learning about all the different inputs and different techniques that people were using – such as more scientific customer journey mapping or customer sessions – was very interesting as well, because I could see how people are technically collecting their data and then using that data to be more customer-centric. 

Also, it was great to meet the judging panel and have the opportunity to talk all day with those individuals who I’ve now connected with. That gives you more connections into that market, into other people who are passionate about the same thing. 

I would highly recommend it. I got a lot out of it personally and professionally from listening to and judging these submissions, it’s something I’d be more than happy to do again.


Entries for the UK Customer Experience Awards open officially on 14th February 2020, but you can register your interest now!

To read more Awards International stories about customer experience, click here


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnOctober 22, 20196min3160

The UK Business Awards are coming up on 8th November, and we can hardly contain the excitement! Known unofficially as ‘the Dons’ in honour of our chairman Don Hales, it’s going to be a fantastic event.

If you’re already attending as a finalist, judge or sponsor, we can’t wait to see you there! And if you haven’t yet made plans to attend, there’s still time to book your ticket. The Awards are a fantastic educational and networking opportunity: with over half the presentations open to spectators, you can see first-hand how top companies are taking their companies forward.

Today, we’re sharing some feedback from customers in previous years, so you know what makes this event so very special.


To book your seat at the UK Business Awards, click here


What I really found useful was watching other companies’ presentations from a variety of sectors. You go and listen to someone from another industry and you think ‘oh that’s a really good idea, I will try that!’

–  Leanne Farr, Sales Director at Solar Plants



The UK Business Awards are definitely different from other awards we’ve entered, especially the judging process that went on during the day. I really liked the fact that you could have an open door presentation so that you can go and hear about other award entrants as well. That openness and finding out what other people are doing is unique, hearing about other companies’ stories and successes – it was more like a working experience. I haven’t come across that in any other awards that we’ve entered and I especially enjoyed that part of it.


– Lauren Milton, Salon Co-ordinator at Elan Hair Design



This was a fantastic opportunity to hear up close and personal from others about what they’re doing to make a real difference to their businesses, their customers and their employees. It was truly inspirational to see the innovation and quality on show, and gave me a number of ‘nuggets’ to take back to the day job.

– Ian Ashby, Customer Service Transformation Leader at ServiceNow


Combining the best elements of awards programmes and conferences, this year’s UK Business Awards is a major event – whether you’re directly entering or not. Don’t miss out on the chance to meet some fascinating, influential people and the opportunity to learn more about taking your business forward. Get your ticket today!


To book your seat at the UK Business Awards, click here

For more Awards International business stories, click here


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnOctober 22, 201911min2940

Judging Interview: Debbie Ashton



Debbie Ashton (left) is a Founder and SVP for Strategic Customer Experience at FinancialForce, and was a judge at this year’s UK Customer Experience Awards. We caught up to discuss her judging experience. 




Was this your first time judging?

Yes, it was my first time. I was judging in the Team of the Year category. 


For those who haven’t judged before, could you give a brief rundown of what the job entails?

Once you’ve agreed to do the judging, you can choose your top 3 categories that you’d like to judge, and then there’s an internal selection process to decide which one you get allocated. After that, we received a package of pdfs that include the submissions from different organisations that have put their names forwards. I quite liked this: we got all the information via email from Awards International with login information to the portal. On the portal, you could find all the relevant paperwork, you could view it all online or download the pdfs. 

I liked the flexibility of the process. I travel a lot, so I actually downloaded the entry forms onto my laptop when I did a trip out to the US. I read them on the plane and did the scoring, then when I got where I was going, I could just put in all the scores to the portal. 

We were also invited to a webinar to get additional information about the judging process. If you missed it (like I did) you could watch a tutorial. So there was tons of information to help you successfully judge the categories. 

On the day of judging, there were live presentations, held at Wembley Stadium. Each organisation would come in and deliver their presentation live. You get to ask questions and interact, then you do another scoring. The judging process consolidates the scoring from the live presentations with the scores from the paper submissions and comes up with the winners.


What did you like about this two-step process?

I liked seeing the live presentations and being able to interact with people, but it was interesting to read the submissions and get an understanding of what people had done and how successful they’d been at creating change programmes in their organisation to improve customer experience. What I liked was that when you read them, some of them really stood out in terms of diligence and accomplishments – that really came across. 

When those companies came in to do the live presentations, you could relate to it. You might already have had some questions in your mind that you wanted to ask. It’s good to have some balance. 

It created a sense of competition but also a bit of pressure, which you wouldn’t get if you were just writing a paper submission. I think that created a bit of an edge which was really exciting on the day. 


To find out more about how to judge, please contact Lisa Bailey at lisa@awardsinternational.com


What is your feedback on the standard of entries?

My colleague judged at the Awards last year, and she said that the submissions had significantly improved over the previous year, and there were a lot more people participating in the judging this year. I thought that was a good sign of how this is growing as a subject. 

In terms of improving the quality of entries, the people that scored highly were people that very specifically answered the questions in a reasonable amount of detail. They gave the context, defined the strategy, the success criteria, the targets, and explained the programme and results. What was particularly meaningful was when an organisation demonstrated that they had directly impacted the company’s revenue, and directly impacted the NPS. Those are really meaningful metrics, so it was great to see it directly laid out like that, it was great.

When they presented, the people who got the best scores were the ones that took on board all the criteria, answered against them, and were very specific with their evidence. One of the finalists explained that they had lost business as a result of poor customer experience the year before they implemented their improvement programme. As they implemented their changes, they actually picked up a client they had lost, which had a significant impact on their revenue stream. 


There’s no conferring between judges during the scoring process. What did you make of this? 

We took that very seriously. We were covering up our answers as we wrote them and we didn’t actually talk about it until everything was submitted. We had a great chair of judges who made the rules of engagement clear at the beginning. 

In that one day, we had a great team feeling and great camaraderie, and I think that’s definitely the right thing to do and something that should remain as part of the Awards. 


What do you feel you learned about customer experience?

I found it really thought-provoking and inspiring to see what other organisations have achieved in customer experience. Some organisations were tracking their NPS score on a much more frequent basis than we do and analysing how their programme impacted the NPS score, and I felt that was an area where we [Financialforce] could improve. 

I came away from the event thinking we should implement a new change programme specifically focusing on the customer experience, what we’re seeing in terms of trends. Listening to the stories on the day of the Awards really reminded me how critically important CX is to the success of your organisation, and how to have to stay laser-focused on understanding what impacts the experience, and what you can do to improve it. I’ll be kicking that off in the next fiscal year for us. 

Some of the features that Finalists were discussing were also really cool, such as Zen Desk. I also want to implement more surveys of customers, especially at the point when customers decide to keep using our service or go somewhere else. 


What did you make of the networking opportunities throughout the day?

I connected with all of the judges on LinkedIn. I also contacted the winner of our category [from GAME] to tell her how inspired I was. At the dinner table, there were some really fantastic people, and I connected with them on LinkedIn. One of the women sitting to my left messaged me the next day saying it was one of the funnest nights she’d had in ages. We had a really good table, and I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat for the ceremony! 


What did you make of the ceremony? 

It was really cool! You got to see the scale of the event. It was a nice meal with good service. It was well-organised, there was a good stage and good audio. It’s great to see all those nerves released at the end of the day. 


What are the main benefits of judging?

To be inspired by hearing other organisations and the benefits they delivered to customers – that’s number one. Having a day away from the normal working environment, doing something different allows for some great reflective time. Giving your brain that space allows you to be inspired and to have some different ideas about things that contextually relate to what you do. The final benefit is meeting new people and building up your network, which I really enjoyed. 



To find out more about how to judge, please contact Lisa Bailey at lisa@awardsinternational.com

For more customer experience stories from Awards International, click here

To book your seats for the UK Business Awards, click here.





Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnOctober 11, 20193min4340

Yesterday at Wembley Stadium, we enjoyed our biggest and best UK Customer Experience Awards yet!

Click here to see the full list of winners.

Special congratulations must go to Solus Accident and Repair Centres. They took home the Overall Winner prize, which is awarded to the entry with the highest overall score.

Winners Announced: UK Customer Experience Awards
Overall Winner Solus Accident and Repair Centres

With 852 guests (including 145 judges) in attendance, it was an extraordinary celebration of the advances made in customer experience over the past year, and the standard of competition was exceptionally high. 

Throughout the day, Finalists presented their initiatives in front of the judging panels. Many of these presentations were open to spectators, so our guests made the most of the opportunity to learn how other companies developed outstanding CX strategies. 

There was a dedicated networking area where guests from all sectors of the economy shared ideas about how to further improve the customer experience, forging new business connections as they did so. 

And then in the evening, all our guests enjoyed a glamorous awards ceremony. Ian Golding, world expert in customer experience, did a great job of hosting the event: there were lots of awards to give out, and he did a great job of keeping the audience engaged throughout. 

After the winners in each category had been announced, it was time for our special musical guest – Heather Small. Her set was incredibly uplifting and got everybody moving! After that, the DJ took over and provided the soundtrack to the dancefloor until 1AM.

Once again, thank you to everyone for making this event so special, and we hope to see you again next year!


We have a range of upcoming awards programmes all over the world. To view the full calendar of Awards International events, click here


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnOctober 8, 20195min2320

DVJ Insights

In partnership with Marketing Week, DVJ Insights have published a fascinating report into the nature of brand growth.

They conducted a survey of brands that have seen their revenue grow (high-performing brands) and once that haven’t (low-performing brands). These companies have varying attitudes on several important issues – and perhaps this explains their differing fortunes.

Let’s take a look at what they had to say on a range of marketing issues.


1. “Sales activation will become more important over the coming year.”

High-performers: 17% agree

Low-performers: 27% agree

The answer here reveals something interesting: top organisations take a more holistic view of marketing. To them. it’s as much about building and growing brand awareness as it is about getting people to buy here and now. Laying the foundations for long-term growth, high-performers attach relatively less importance to more traditional marketing. Indeed, 60% of winning brands believed a combination of sales activation and brand building was integral to success, compared to 49% of low-performing brands.


2. “We focus on lead generation and conversion.”

High-performers: 68% agree 

Low-performers: 53% agree

Balancing short-term and long-term marketing priorities, top marketers still focus on lead generation and conversion. Specsavers’ marketing chief Shaun Briggs sums up the issue: “Without leads we’ve nothing to convert, and without conversion I’m wasting leads. Nail both and I’m delivering optimum short-term results. Of course, if I’m ignoring the longer term when doing this, future leads are likely to be harder and more expensive to acquire.”


3. “Our innovation budget has been cut.”

High-performers: 7% agree

Low-performers: 22% agree

Both high- and low-performers agree that their budget isn’t enough to fully support innovation (73% and 71% respectively), but lower-performers are feeling the pinch especially.


4. “We view marketing as an investment.”

High-performers: 47% agree

Low-performers: 13% agree

This is particularly interesting; this issue contained the biggest difference in opinion across the entire survey. If your firm views marketing as costly and inefficient, you have to ask yourself: is this a false economy? Indeed, it seems like this problem will perpetuate itself: 22% of low-performing brands expect their marketing budget to rise, compared with 50% of high-performers. Without the resources to outwit their competition, low-performers could get left further behind.


DVJ Insights


5. “We work with lots of partners.”

High-performers: work with 6.1 agencies on average per year

Low-performers: work with 3.3 agencies on average per year 

Willingness to seek out niche expertise is key to success, with successful companies using almost twice as many agencies as their struggling competitors.



This report suggests that companies with a dynamic, flexible approach to marketing are more likely to have commercial success. High-performing companies value marketing that develops their brand as well as generating and converting leads. And they’re more willing to use outside help to achieve their goals.

Marketers everywhere: take heed of this report, and use it to your advantage!


To book your ticket for the UK Business Awards, click here

For more Awards International stories, click here.


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnOctober 8, 20193min3120

Last week, we attended the OSX Summit & Expo at the Excel Centre in London. Representing the Customer Experience Magazine, we were there to find contributors to the magazine and customers for our various awards programmes, as well as learning about the latest innovations in customer experience.

At first, it felt like walking into a science fiction movie: there were two robots roving around the conference, taking photos and conducting surveys.


Once we got used to our android neighbours, we started on the main business: meeting, greeting and listening to keynote speeches.

My highlight from the speaking agenda was Mitchell Platt of Growth Tribe, who gave us a whistle-stop tour of the most empowering tools in growth marketing. There were many new techniques to appreciate here, and ones that we’ll certainly be using in the future!

There were several contact centre companies in attendance, which meant that we made some great connections for the upcoming UK Complaint Handling Awards. It was also a chance to generate some interest for next year’s Digital Experience and Customer Experience Awards.

From a judging perspective, we met some very interesting professionals who would make excellent additions to our panels of independent judges. Their passion and expertise in customer experience was truly evident, and I’m sure they can bring a lot of talent to our awards programmes in years to come.

This was also a useful opportunity to make connections from the South East Europe region, particularly business associations from Hungary. As we launch the South East Europe Customer Experience Awards next year, increasing the size of our network is incredibly valuable.

Overall, this was a fantastic experience. It was great to meet other professionals, hear about emerging trends in outsourcing and get the word out about our awards!


To read more customer experience stories from Awards International, click here

For tickets to this Thursday’s UK Customer Experience Awards, click here


Thomas FairbairnThomas FairbairnOctober 7, 20196min7820

At its heart, customer experience is about decency and respect towards others, and we can’t wait to celebrate these qualities on October 10th at the UK Customer Experience Awards.

A lot of this amazing work happens on a small scale: in a shop, restaurant or place of business. And since these CX angels deserve proper recognition, we want to share three stories of outstanding customer service on here.

So if you want to be able to say “I know a really cool CX practitioner but you’ve probably never heard of them”, you’re in the right place! Welcome to the Customer Experience Underground.


The Stove Salesman

Customer Experience Underground - Stove

I was in an appliance store shopping for a new stove, and was looking at a stove that was priced at $1300. While talking to the salesperson he took me to the back of the store and showed me a stove that looked almost exactly the same but was $600. He explained that it was last year’s model and on clearance. While we were talking about the particulars of delivery and such, I asked if he gets commissions on sales and learned that they only get paid a commission on sales that total $1000 or more.

This means that the salesman basically saved me $700 while simultaneously ruling himself out of a commission.

That was when I decided I needed a new television, entertainment centre, and tablet.

In case you didn’t guess, the writer here decided to spend well over $1000 to make sure the salesman got rewarded for his honest efforts. Moral of the story: customers appreciate frankness and can actually buy much more when they don’t feel like they’re being sold to!


The Restaurant Manager

Customer Experience Underground

Six of us went out to dinner before a movie. For some reason, our order wasn’t placed so we missed our show time for the movie. The manager was making his rounds checking on the tables, so we let him know what happened. He gave the whole table a free meal and said if we brought in our receipt from the movies, he would pay for that as well. We weren’t looking for a free meal, and things like this happen – really, we just wanted him to know so it didn’t happen again. We went to the later show and did not bring our receipts back from the movie – but I make sure to tell people about how quickly and fantastically we were responded to.

You can tell how mortified this restaurant manager was – and how much he was willing to do to make the situation better. The customer didn’t want a refund on their cinema ticket; they just wanted their food, and to let the restaurant know about the mistake! The generosity of the manager in the face of this error has made the writer more likely to come back in the future.


How do you like them apples?

Customer Experience Underground

I used to go to a farm every year to get Gravenstein apples. One year I bought two boxes of apples, but forgot to put one of them in the car. I only realised it when I got home. I had paid in cash, so I couldn’t even call the place and ask for a refund on the apples I didn’t take, and I wasn’t going to go back to get them (it’s about fifty miles each way). I wrote it off in my mind as money lost to a mistake.

The next year, my friend and I went back to the farm. As soon as I stepped in the door, the woman behind the counter said, “You left a box of apples here last year!” She let me fill a box with apples and take them. This is someone who saw me only once a year. I was really astonished that she remembered.

You don’t remember this much about your customers without caring about them deeply! Great CX is all about nurturing long-term relationships with customers, and little details like this make all the difference.



This Thursday, we’ll be hearing CX stories from the UK’s top companies at the UK Customer Experience Awards. 

You can book your ticket to attend here

For more Awards International stories on customer experience, click here