An insider’s guide to customer marketing at Telstra

Telstra general manager of customer communications, Keiron Devlin, talks to CMO about the work he’s doing to help the telco become a modern marketing organisation

It’s become the goal of every modern marketer: One-to-one engagement regardless of communication channel or consumer type, and the ability to respond and interact with any customer in a real-time, relevant way.

To hear some of the stories about brands personalising their customer engagement activities and reorienting their corporate ships around customer satisfaction methodologies like Net Promoter Score, you’d be forgiven for thinking the industry is well on its way towards this Utopia. But there’s a long way to go – not least around technology integration, staff skillsets and processes.

CMO caught up with Telstra general manager of customer communications, Keiron Devlin, at the recent Oracle Marketing Cloud Symposium in San Francisco to talk about the telco’s own quest to embrace customer-centric marketing, where he’s made inroads, and where he continues to face challenges.

Moving to technology fuelled customer marketing

According to Devlin, who reports directly to Telstra director of CRM, loyalty and digital marketing, Nick Adams, the telco’s view of modern customer marketing is about moving to a technology-driven marketing organisation that can provide personalised, relevant messages to its customers.

Last year, Telstra revealed it had shifted 40 per cent of its budget into CRM and out of traditional advertising, and is increasingly putting investment behind data-driven marketing programs including technology, people and process innovations.

Devlin sits in the CRM team with responsibility for all of the regulatory communications, as well as customer on-boarding. He also manages relationships for the CMO function internally as well as with third-party providers such as Australia Post, print managers and technology vendors.

“When you’re talking about an organisation that has 300 marketers, and where the CRM organisation spans 90, that’s significant change to be implementing,” Devlin comments. He knows it’s a challenge that can’t just be fixed by marketing departments or technology alone.

“It’s not only about people, it’s about technology, process and investment. It’s about functional things we need to do, and the conversations Nick has to have in other parts of the business that he doesn’t necessarily own,” Devlin says.

“He has to heavily influence those sides to not only get investment, but also the support and sponsorship needed to do the things we want to do to enable that greater insight and intelligence that we can use to deliver more effective communications with the customer.”

Arguably one of the big challenges for the marketing team is people. To help, Devlin has recently brought on the technical operations director from its marketing automation technology partner, Responsys, to help lead the technology charge internally, and he’s opened dialogue and relationships with technology teams, too.

Customer lifecycles

Another part of the equation is rebuilding the team to present a more unified customer experience. One of Devlin’s current initiatives is the ‘first 100 days’ customer program, which aims to provide new customers with a seamless welcome and on-boarding process, regardless of channel.

“My vision is that to build a ‘first 100 days’ brand, bringing this all together and quarantining these customers so that whether you take a call, come into from retail or a forum environment, we better control that experience and deliver more signature experiences as the customer comes through that lifecycle,” he says.

Providing this requires huge changes to people and process. For example, Devlin oversees an email team providing expertise around the channel, then another team doing welcome packs historically through traditional channels.

“Now I’m going back to propose that I rebuilt my team around that first 100 days, so it’s all-encompassing,” Devlin says. A significant change like this to customer engagement also requires buy-in from other parts of the organisation, as well as more agile way of working.

“I might be leading the project, but I’ve had to bring together 17 general managers from different partners of the business – digital, credit, billion, channel, retail stores or the group managing inbound calls – to facilitate a dialogue so that every two weeks, we’re reviewing progress, making decisions, stopping and starting,” he says. “But that’s what it is, and that’s what working in an agile way is.”

One area Devlin has made significant ground is regulatory communications. He explains Telstra has a regulatory piece that it sends out to customers as a welcome pack. To date, this has been a generic 35-page printed brochure.

“We worked with our regulators, corporate affairs and legal teams to agree a position on taking that to digital,” he says. “I ran a pilot, where we provided enough support and information around our risk, and the regulatory agreed. The biggest challenge in that instance was that the regulation hasn’t necessarily kept up with the industry. And with the new privacy laws, it adds another layer of complexity to this picture.”

The work paid off and Telstra now has a dynamically built welcome pack that can be personalised to provide Apple content to iPhone users, or Google Play content to Android users.

“It’s really basic stuff, but important stuff for us to address if we want to get to that end goal,” Devlin says.

“Interestingly enough, I got to that position, then I had to take a backward step as I found we weren’t consistent with how we were collecting permissions. With the privacy and regulation, we have a lot of exposure and risk.

“It’s one of my biggest learnings – the scrutiny that Telstra is under every day is wide and we have to be very considered in what we sent. There is no opportunity for us to make a mistake.”

Data complexity

Data is another major focus and as many marketers will attest, the foundation for getting to a single customer view. To highlight the complexity and intricacy of the work needed to modernise the marketing function, Devlin points to customer complaint data, which currently sits outside of the marketing platform.

“That means I can’t consider that when I need to think about I’m rating how good Telstra is. Customers don’t want to hear about how good Telstra is, they want me to sort out their complaint and then go away,” he continues.

“So I first need to identify the data, then go and find capital investment, which is a very rigorous process in Telstra as we have a number of competing priorities, go to the IT community and get the development work done, and then move forward. That’s just one data field. And it’s a very important piece of data I know will impact our customer engagement.”

In addition, Telstra captures a host of information as customers move through a conversation with us. I have all this data but it’s not in our Unica solution, our decision-making tool. Nevertheless, data uniformity is being driven on a number of different fronts.

One way Devlin has helped is by reducing the number of technology platforms used across the organisation to unify data and delivery capabilities. He’s also working on two projects to bring together email and shopping cart abandonment into a single platform.

“This will mean we get a better view of our customer and can leverage all the smarts and intelligence we have built,” he says.

Where to next

While he’s pleased with progress made to date, Devlin says his biggest challenge is wanting everything to happen quickly, and to happen tomorrow.

“I think we could do such wonders but like everything else, you’ve got to take time and digest your thoughts,” he says. “If I went in and asked to stop everything to fix it, I wouldn’t get in the door. You have to fight your battles.

“There’s a bunch of work you can still do and at a tactical level with your partners, but then there’s a bigger play that it constantly feeds into.”

The good news is everyone in Telstra is focused on getting to this segment of one, Devlin says, and recognises that it involves stitching together all the moving parts to get to a centralised view of its customer.

The customer-centric charge is being led by CEO, David Thodey, but every part of the business has ownership, he says.

“David has enabled the organisation with some simple tools, cut some tape and made it easier for us as employees to do the best thing by our customers,” Devlin says.

Telstra staff have a significant satisfaction component to their scorecards, ensuring conversations are not just centred on revenue but also customer impact.

The telco has also just relaunched its ‘my customer, my responsibility’ program to drive customer accountability and ownership in retail stores. The program sees select customer called 24 hours after they complete a transaction.

“That will have a significant impact on how we take a customer out of a retail environment, through this program that Nick and I are leading and seamlessly through this on-boarding exercise to make sure they are adequately set-up to enjoy the benefits, products and services,” Devlin adds.

Talking the business talk

As customer-led marketing rises up the corporate value chain, it also requires marketing leaders to communicate their activities and efforts in revenue terms. According to Keiron Devlin, no modern marketer can afford to go into their boss armed only with email open rates and website clicks.

Instead, the conversation is positioned around the business case benefits. As an example, Devlin points to his work around the ‘first 100 days’ program for new customers, where he and Adams talked to general managers across the business about what the new-look initiative would deliver.

“We had to go in and state the benefits to our business case which included revenue savings, thanks to call reductions; an NPS benefit; and a revenue benefit,” he says. “In our organisation, all of this comes down to a commercial discussion. The days of us talking about open rates and clickthroughs are long gone.”

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