Executive connections: 4 customer chiefs reveal their corporate allies

And their favourite executive peers may not be the people you'd think

Organisations across Australia are increasingly appointing dedicated heads of customer engagement as a way of systematising and focusing their corporate efforts around the customer.

But these customer custodians can’t make such transformational change happen in isolation. So just who inside the organisation is their biggest ally in making customer-centricity a reality? Is it the CMO, for example, or has IT got a bigger role to play in delivering on customer expectations?

Here, we ask four heads of customer experience to share who their closest peer in the organisation today are and why. Their responses may well surprise you.

HR, distribution and IT


ING Direct executive director of customer experience, John Arnott

When it comes to finding allies across the business, ING’s head of customer engagement, John Arnott, nominates HR as a key partner for his dedicated customer experience team.

“Our culture is led from the top from the CEO but HR is the steward of our culture. And it’s important that the culture we lead and drive and evolve throughout the organisation is truly customer centric,” he says. “What we do outside for our customers we also have to do inside for our staff. We need to be very much ‘inside out’ aligned in what we’re doing.”

Arnott’s customer team also works closely with the customer distribution teams across channels to execute on what the customer experience team is doing. “It’s fair enough identifying what’s important but acting on it is critical so we work very closely to make that happen,” Arnott continues.

“We provide insights and we provide information for the rest of the teams to be able to act on and execute. What escalate if we’re not seeing that flow through because otherwise it becomes a toothless tiger.”

The technology team is Arnott’s third core partner, as they have the ability to make technology an enabler to bring customer experience to life, he said.

“ING Direct traditionally has been an IT marketing shop. We have a great brand, great product suite, great experience for the customer but it’s enabled by technology which brings with it simplicity, usability and the low cost that gives us the ability to give the value back to our customers.

“As an executive team we are fully aligned in terms of what success looks like. If I talk to the CIO or the COO at ING DIRECT they talk customer and they’re ensured that what we’re doing is the right thing.”

Arnott said ING has moved to more agile operating environment, making the interaction between IT and the business is a lot more fluid. The two teams also co-locate, and hold regularly meetings to determine the right SLAs and manage communications to customers.

“The type of fluid engagement we have for me is what an embedded customer experience culture looks like. I think if you’re forced to do something by a process then you’re certainly in the infancy of this, but when IT is engaging with the customer experience team, saying what should we be doing, that’s when embedding truly occurs. We also have a customer experience relationship manager within IT who ensures the IT function is glued together and is having those conversations.

“It’s not just the customer forcing their way into the organisation, it’s IT putting the customer in as well. If you can get both of those then you’re in good shape.”

Virgin’s customer chief: Customer experience comes down to your people

Distribution and delivery


Dayle Grant, Energex executive general manager of customer and corporate relations

At Queensland electricity provider, Energex, Dayle Grant was given the responsibility of overseeing customer engagement in January and since then, has been working to help create the blueprint needed for the organisation to transform its customer approach from top to bottom.

Along the way, she says her key allies across the business have significantly changed. Today, she nominates the head of Energex’s network – the equivalent of a product development team – as her top ally.

“It’s ironic but my number one ally would be my executive general manager in the network area, where they design and builds the core customer network,” she says. “As we’ve started to transform our thinking around being customer-centric, that team has had an extraordinary change around customer focus as well.”

Grant also noted the significant support and change in direction from the more technical areas of the business, such as the executive general manager of Energex’s Asset Management division, who is responsible for the strategic direction of the electricity assets. The change in direction has moved more toward optimising customer outcomes.

“I’d describe this relationship previously as an ally, whereas now it’s a partnership in driving the customer outcomes,” Grant added.

Customer centricity is the difference between intent and action, says NAB

Operational excellence


Mark Randall, chief customer officer, Bulletproof

While he’s pretty confident he could name anyone within the CxO group at Bulletproof as an ally, Mark Randall says it’s his head of operations that has truly proven to be his number one partner.

“Lorenzo Modesto [our COO] has driven operational excellence and a customer–obsessed culture since co-founding the business over 14 years ago,” he says. “He leads our support, technical and service delivery teams that strive to deliver great service to customers every day. He also plays an active role in all hiring decisions to ensure our service culture is enhanced and not diluted with scale.

“Within most organisations, the role of a CCO is to be devoted to customer retention and satisfaction. With Lorenzo’s support in fostering a top-down customer approach, my job becomes that much easier.”

Randall, who joined Bulletproof about a year ago after a stint as country manager of Rackspace in Australia, said onboarding has also been made easier by the support he’s experience from all of his c-level colleagues, and notably the company’s technology chief.

“When I started my first objective was to gain a deep understanding of the technologies and solutions that were available to my customers. To this end, John Ferlito’s [CTO] technical understanding and experience has been invaluable at times,” Randall added.

How to start the journey towards customer centricity

Marketing/IT alignment and cross-company collaboration


Stephen Nugent, chief customer officer, HCF

Stephen Nugent was the general manager of operations at HCF before being appointed to the newly created role of chief customer officer in February. He oversees a network of 53 branches in five states, two call centres, claims processing and receipting of revenue collection, part of which is customer service and back-end support, as well as anything related to front-end customer service.

Nugent said he and his team work extremely closely with the marketing function and are the custodians of what he described as the “fifth P in marketing: People”.

“We also have a say in product, promotion, price and place, and we work collectively and catchup with marketing on a weekly basis to make sure what we’re doing is effective with customers,” he said.

“Customer-centricity is there across the organisation; it’s a matter of what we’re doing and understanding what that means across the board.”

Nugent said working with IT is also an important part of how HCF improves customer engagement, particularly given digital’s growing prominence as a customer touchpoint.

“We [customer, marketing and IT] are three parts of the business working extensively together to deliver those items,” he continued. “While different people are responsible for different channels, we are all looking at what we need around digital, for example, and the effect of any changes and how we work across the organisation to deliver on those.

“The frontline customer team has a say into any product development taking place or change that takes place with digital. Any project that could impact our customer engagement, we’re in on so that when it gets to market, we don’t have any problems.”

Ultimately, customer-centricity is a team effort, Nugent added. “You’ve got to do that to deliver the services across the breadth of our customer base. You can’t have someone sitting outside of that doing something else. We’re here as a business to improve the health outcomes of our members.”

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