Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Storytelling is crucial in building and crafting an organisation’s customer experience and agility efforts, according to top marketers and technology leaders from AMP, OPSM, Aussie and Vision Critical.
“The idea of getting really intimate with customers is important,” said OPSM vice-president of marketing, Jee Moon, during a panel discussion at this year’s annual CMO, CIO and ADMA Executive Connections breakfast event.
The theme of the event, which attracted more than 100 attendees, was ‘Crafting Your Organisation’s Customer Experience Approach’.
At OPSM, the ‘Look at Me Lola’ campaign aims to understand the underlying needs, behaviours, desires and fears in order to build a story, get more in touch with customers and foster an intimate relationship with them through different levels of engagement, Moon said.
“‘Look at Me Lola’ is actually the customer we really want. She sees glasses not just as an instrument for vision correction, and a utility, but actually as something that expresses her sense of style,” she explained. “It is the idea of unlocking a personal interaction as you would in a small business, and is how we are engaging.”
Being able to identify the customer and measure the results is vital in building these personal engagements, Moon said.
“It is about the storytelling, which is absolutely based on the data that we collect on the customer. But then it is actually in the language and the story that we put around that data to create a picture of who the customer is, and what their underlying needs and desires are,” she said. “It is also knowing how to adapt that story to meet the agenda or interests of different people within the organisation.”
Moon was joined on the panel by AMP customer segments and marketing director, Rod Finch; Vision Critical executive vice-president and managing director of Pacific, Peter Harris; and Aussie Home Loans’ general manager of customer experience and technology, Richard Burns.
While panellists agreed digital disruption and transformation has been a driving force for many an organisation’s efforts to become more customer-led, Moon said the disruption many companies are experiencing can often be a case of business survival rather than any channel changes.
“In the case of OPSM in not understanding our customer, we were losing our way in the marketplace. Our competitor had come in and changed the dialogue to be much more about price,” Moon said. “Becoming customer-centric was about actually needing to survive in business.”
Burns said disruption is at the heart of the Aussie Home Loans business model. “John Symond started that business as one of the real disruptors in financial services and really changed how people get home loans,” he said. “From a digital perspective, the key driver for us is not necessarily that we were being disrupted, it was more that we saw the changes in consumer behaviour that were happening.”
Burns said the decision to bring both marketing and technology together under his remit was about gaining a bigger focus on customer experience, rather than “marketing being there for marketing's sake and technology for technology's sake”.
So what does it take to build the business around the customer? According to Harris, a top-down approach reaps the most rewards. “Businesses start at the top and push it down in terms of understanding the customer, putting the customer at the centre of what you do. If you can pull it off, that’s where the big changes happen,” he said.
“Why it’s really important right now and why CEOs are talking about it is because of digital disruption but also because of a new era of customers. Millennials are about to inherit the world’s biggest pot of gold - the inheritance of their parents. That’s a whole new customer target big brands really need to understand, and they don’t want to be engaged with in traditional methods.”
For Harris, the walk towards transformation requires tackling several components: Defining key business problems; managing digital transformation internally; and being able to really understand the why.
“If you can understand the why, that’s crucial. It is easy to collect customer information, we have mountains of it. But understanding the why is really the breakthrough you need,” he said.
Panellists also debated the rise of the chief customer officer and its effectiveness. One company that has opted to appoint a dedicated customer chief is AMP.
“That was really about sending a signal to the whole organisation and the market about where we were heading,” Finch said. “Who owns the customer has been a point of discussion and focus for the organisation for many years. The creation of the CCO role sent a signal, recognises that customers have choice, and that technology drives a lot of that.
“For us, it is about recognising the incredible value that comes from our partners, and the advisor network, then recognising customers and the different ways they want to engage with our services.”
But Burns saw a danger in appointing a chief customer officer. “Debates around who owns the customer, I think, are a waste of time,” he said.
“It shows there are some tensions in the culture, which have to be worked through. Because if everyone in the organisation is not passionate about the customer, you will spend a lot of useless time debating what you should be doing.
“Originally my title was general manager, customer, and I changed that because I didn't want people in the organisation thinking, ‘well you can take care of the customer’. Part of my role is making sure we are all passionate about the customer - that’s part of the ongoing challenge I have. But to say there is one person, I think is very risky.”
Moon said the customer should be seen as a privilege, not an asset. “The customer is not something to be owned, but someone to lure, keep and woo as much as anything,” she said.
Changing corporate culture to be more customer focused is one of the most important challenges and opportunities, according to Burns, who’s on a mission to get his team to go out and personally speak to customers.
“You have to be prepared to put yourself in their shoes and get an understanding,” he said. “Until we have a culture where people can’t wait to get out of the office and speak to customers, I don’t think we’ve gone far enough.”
So how can companies deal with the organisational silos that continue to permeate operations, often separating the marketing department from other teams and hindering customer centricity? The first step is unifying KPIs, Harris said.
“Every team has their own things to do, but transformation will happen if everyone in the organisation can really understand why you are in business,” he said. “In our own organisation, we went through a transformation two years ago, which was again CEO led.
“Every single person in the organisation needed to learn and understand what our customer promise is, why we are in business, why people want to have inside communities with our company.”
Once companies get close to the customer and understand why they are buying from them, they are then able to understand the importance of a churn customer, and the importance of a newly acquired customer, Harris noted.
At Aussie Home Loans, a number of operational procedures are taking shape in a bid to break down the siloed approach, according to Burns, such as activity-based working.
“If you came into the studio where my team sits, you wouldn’t be able to tell who’s in technology and who’s in marketing,” he said. “We have also adopted agile right across the business. That started in technology, but now literally every single team, with every single initiative we undertake, is cross-functional. Right through to executive level, everyone can see what the main priorities are, what we are doing and why.”
Burns said Aussie also decided to in-source its customer contact centre. “If we are truly passionate about our customers, it is crazy to let somebody else take care of such key moments of truth,” he said.
Better customer engagement is the ultimate goal, panellists agreed, and to do that, you need to utilise data. “At OPSM, we are very lucky to have an incredible wealth of customer data. Basically, it is like a medical record," Moon said. "We know everything from your blood type through to every detail. It is not perfect, but as close to a single view of customer as I’ve ever experienced.
“So we have a real wealth of data and that data gives us a read on things."