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CMO50 2016 #10: Renee McGowan

  • Name Renee McGowan
  • Title Chief customer and marketing officer, Pacific
  • Company Mercer
  • Commenced role July 2013
  • Reporting Line Dual report to MD and market leader and global marketing and sales chief
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 46 staff, 4 direct reports
  • Twitter @RenMcGowan
  • Industry Sector Financial services
  • 2015 ranking 9
  • Related

    Brand Post

    It’s two years since the launch of Mercer’s Customer Transformation Strategy, a holistic, customer-led vision to re-invent the way superannuation is done, and McGowan describes the changes to date as “enormous”.

    From a technological perspective, the three-step program of work has been substantial. Mercer has overhauled its digital platforms and front-end offerings to drive more personalised engagement, replaced its customer management technologies including CRM, and invested in a suite of new marketing tools stretching from marketing automation and campaign management to next-best offers and proprietary data analytics and customer insights engine, Mercer Edge.

    But for McGowan, who sparked and spearheaded the change as marketing and customer experience leader, technology is just one of three interconnected pieces sitting alongside process and importantly, people. In turn, understanding and setting key capabilities Mercer needed around data, digital, people and customer experience was vital if the financial services provider was to execute on its brand purpose, ‘make tomorrow, today’.

    “We put a lot of focus on data, on our customer management and digital, and advice and sales - that was critical as that was the grounding point and bulk of the work to make this change, which is quite profound,” she says. “But capability in terms of people has been paramount – getting those new people that think differently and can blend with people across our organisation. With that, we create a different way of thinking.”

    Marketing’s repositioning support function to business driver has seen McGowan grow her team by 25 per cent in the last 12 months. And notably, not a single new hire has come from a superannuation background, but instead boasts of experience in retail, hospitality, journalism or IT.

    For McGowan, diversity of thought is vital if brands are to achieve the combination of creativity, process and disciplined execution required in a modern marketing team.

    “Today, industry subject expertise matters less, and while marketing expertise is important, it’s the ability to be flexible in your thinking and having a willingness to embrace new ideas that we look for,” she says. “We’ve had people from different sectors, who’ve never been in financial services, but also people who have no traditional marketing expertise.

    “A great example is we have someone trained in mechanical engineering who is awesome at process maps. With marketing automation, you’re building massive process maps and mapping the right processes to the customer insights you have. And surprise, the mechanical engineer is all over the process, and can work with data insights to map the data to the process. It’s an interesting combination.”

    Executing on the vision

    Having laid the foundations for customer-led engagement, McGowan and her team have spent the last few months “executing on the dream that was created”. An example mentioned in her CMO50 submission is Mercer’s new customer on-boarding program, overhauled and relaunched in February, which revolves around a five-step campaign guiding customers through several key actions.

    The program is supported by Mercer’s Edge analytics platform, which creates a single and unified view of customer insights for employees across the business, and has already helped curb high churn rates.

    Another key achievement was implementing next-best conversation technology to enable insight driven customer conversations across channels again with the ambition of improving customer outcomes. The platform is integrated with CRM and digital experience and is delivering real-time customer insights to front-line teams. To date, 25 per cent of calls to Mercer’s superannuation contact centre now generate a next-best conversation intervention, resulting in greater bottom-line results.

    McGowan describes the ambition as “personalisation contextualisation”, and says it’s about having conversations with customers, rather than delivering messages. “With everything we do, it’s about how we start and continue a dialogue with our customers in a two-way conversation, rather than deliver them either the message we think is important or what business would like them to know,” she continues.

    “That has been phenomenally exciting – it’s leveraging all the hard work around data and analytical insight, then our execution plans and the new technology we have, and changing the process around how we deliver customer experience.

    “Now we have an organisation that starts to orientate around the conversation with a customer, rather than the transaction or thing they need to do.”

    The emphasis on customer has also seen Mercer adopt human-centred design as a way of problem solving. In recent months, staff across the business were trained by global design thinking company, IDEO, and now regularly group into purpose-driven teams working directly with customers to identify points of friction and remove them.

    Keeping focus and momentum

    Shifting from rollout to execution can naturally change the team’s focus, and McGowan says getting people strong enough to lead that disciplined execution is vital.

    “Also, you need to make sure you are continually driving back to core objectives with that vision, anchoring it back to what you were trying to do,” she says. “As you move into execution, everyone gets excited about what they can do, and that’s where you can start to lose your way. Of course it’s the exciting bit, because with execution comes the outcomes of the vision we are trying to create. We’re starting to see these bright spots of fundamental, systematic change starting to play out in value for our customers and the business.”

    McGowan flags two big learnings for her from Mercer’s transformation program to date. The first is what she calls “going narrow”.

    “You need to go narrow in what you want do, rather than change every system, feature of part of the experience all at once,” she says. “If you can get the organisation focused on changing just one thing, it quickly becomes two, three, four or five things. Plus you have built the credibility around what you are doing and have started to demonstrate to the business the value of doing it.”

    The other learning for McGowan is managing change fatigue both as a team as well as across the wider organisation. “In the past, you could set a big project like this as part of your annual business program and you’d get to the end of the year, pat yourself on the back, have your break, then start next year afresh,” she says.

    “That doesn’t apply with these multiyear, large change programs. Keeping that momentum and energy and positivity around what you’re doing when it goes through ebbs and flows is key. Sometimes days are just a hard slog.”

    As Mercer’s transformation progresses, McGowan also sees the need to adjust structures and programs to suit. She points out the speed of change today makes it impossible to separate out running the business from changing the business. As a result, McGowan’s direct reports have both day-to-day operational responsibilities plus own pillars of change.

    For example, the head of consumer marketing is responsible for all consumer marketing activities but also the lead on marketing automation.

    “You’re not doing a change program that’s six months in the planning and six months in implementation, it’s a fast moving program and you’ll go live quickly with a minimal viable product and start iterating from that,” she says. “So you need the lead to be a subject matter expert as well.”

    McGowan agrees the whole nature of marketing strategy is changing. “It’s less about sitting down, doing creative, planning your objectives, it’s about these conversations with customers, and constantly pushing and nudging conversations into different directions,” she says.

    “The fact that my role incorporates both customer and marketing means we are constantly changing. Today, there’s less distinction between what marketing drives as what the business implements. We tend to spread: We have marketing for example sitting with frontline teams helping to prioritise what the business does, plus we have people working with the entire direct sales team, regularly participating in these forums.”

    Over the next 12 months, McGowan’s focus is squarely on outcomes, both for the business and for individual outcomes.

    “Now we have people making decisions around superannuation and finances in far greater numbers than we have ever did,” she says. “It’s about bedding that down and getting that measurable impact on outcomes and how well off they are today in retirement that’s the key focus. I’m putting a deliberate focus on that in the next year, to the point of slowing down the pace of change to embed that and make sure we’re delivering on outcomes we promised.

    “That’s where you demonstrate the value of marketing. That’s the tangible link to business growth and being able to push the conversations around what’s important for business growth.”

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