How legacy businesses make customer-led transformation a reality

Executives from Fonterra, Mercury, Yellow Pages and TS4B share their experiences of shifting from digital to customer-led transformation

  • From left: Liz Coulter, Darren Linton, Kevin Angland and Dominic Quin
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Being brutally honest about the challenges your organisation faces, and ensuring teams can trade stories with each other, are vital ingredients in instigating a customer-led transformation.

That was the advice given by executive leaders from Fonterra, Mercury and Yellow Pages NZ, who spoke on a recent panel as part of the annual CIO-CMO Exchange event in Auckland. The panel discussion, entitled ‘Actioning your organisation’s CX ambitions’, focused on what it takes to reposition an existing, longstanding business around the customer.  

Giant food producer, Fonterra, has just completed phase one of its digital transformation, which very much started with the customer in mind, GM of digital transformation, Dominic Quin, said.

“There was recognition that customer expectations were changing exponentially and we needed to equip ourselves to handle that,” he told attendees. “We export to 100 markets and have lots of different divisions. Back in 2015, we did a review and saw we were going in silos rather than in a cohesive manner. We created our own strategy, digital 1.0, and built out an ecosystem with Adobe, Salesforce, SAP ERP system and so on, so we can cohesively go forward and meet those expectations.”

Technology proved a natural place to start and the way to unite teams that had been working very different across the organisation, Quin continued. The transformation also required Fonterra to push infrastructure and applications to the cloud with minimal customisation.  

“We had 300+ websites globally, no one knew how they were performing, if the content was right, or if we were equipped for a personalisation future, plus we had 37 CRMs all operating separately and nothing coming together,” Quin said. “It’s very hard to change an organisation when you’re all on different technology stacks so you can learn off each other.”

Dominic Quin, Fonterra
Dominic Quin, Fonterra

But arguably, one of the biggest lessons learnt was letting people share stories and use cases with each other, Quin said.

“What we have formed recently is a small central team are ‘adoption guilds’. These are super users who go around and are passionate about what they do in the business and they share stories,” he said. “They all talk the same language, because they’re all on Salesforce or Adobe, they are all doing customer journeys, they’re all doing it the same way and using the basics the same.”

Technology might have provided the platform for a standardisation of language and approach, but it’s the conversations and insights between teams that now drive transformation forward.  

“When you talk about adoption, you’ve also got things like marketing automation, sales and service coming together. So we have the ingredients business talking to the consumer business, talking to the food service business saying this is how we’re using our interface between service and sales clouds, and how we get the best out of that,” Quin added. “We sit in the middle and foster that relationship.

“You need to get the buy in at the top table for the board and management team. But really where it happens is in the day-to-day. If you can get buy in really early to go from 37 CRMs to one platform, which is hard, there’s this natural flywheel of adoption and satisfaction with it.”

Honesty as the best policy

In a similar vein, Yellow Pages CEO, Darren Linton, said it’s on a whole-of-business transformation to become New Zealand’s largest digital marketing agency for SMEs, and one that has digital capability at its core. It already generates 50 per cent of revenue through digital products and services, is Google’s largest partner in the local market, and builds more websites for small business than anyone else in New Zealand and is working with the new brand promise, ‘To help every business thrive’.

The problem is, most people don’t understand what the organisation stands for today. “When I first came in as CMO, the conversation was ‘are you guys still around? And how do I cancel my book?’” Linton said. “This business needs to transform. It’s not a digital but business transformation we’re undertaking. And it’s that kind of brutal honesty we need to have in the business to deliver.”

From left: Liz Coulter, Darren Linton, Kevin Angland and Dominic Quin
From left: Liz Coulter, Darren Linton, Kevin Angland and Dominic Quin

One way Yellow Pages is improving collaboration across teams is by embracing agile-based scrums. The intention is for staff to worry less about who they report to and take more accountability around the project teams they’re assigned to.

“One thing that’s made a huge difference is what your reward and recognise with people- there’s nothing like putting real targets around customer NPS in people’s remuneration,” Linton continued. “We’re also really clear about the sorts of people we want to come and work for us.

“We talk a lot about curiosity, perseverance and humility. You need people to be very open and work this out as you go, because no one has all the answers. You then need to persevere, because it’s hard, and then you need to be humble enough to share across the teams.”

Over at Mercury, GM of digital services, Kevin Angland, said the organisation is 100 per cent customer-led. But this wasn’t the case three or four years ago with earlier attempts at digital transformation.

“If I go back 3-4 years ago, it was an IT-led digital transformation,” he recalled, adding this resulted in siloed teams that no one interacted with and who would shut themselves away for months with no results to speak of.

In Mercury’s case, rejuvenation of the brand and alignment acted as a catalyst for a transformation and customer-led mentality.

“We’ve aligned the organisation behind that customer-led promise, inspiring and making it easier for customers,” Angland said. “We don’t have a digital 1.0 strategy because it’s all around the customer. Therefore what we’re delivering has to line up behind the customer promise. It’s about creating and maintaining relevance.”

That requires triggering both a rational and emotional response. But as Angland pointed out, it’s hard to get emotional about electricity. He pointed to recently launched ‘free power days’ as an attempt to attach something emotional to what is a rational purchase.

Kevin Angland, Mercury Energy
Kevin Angland, Mercury Energy

All of this sees Angland work hand-in-hand with Mercury’s CMO. “I have responsibility for service and operational aspects of retail customer proposition; she has responsibility for the sales and marketing aspects. In respective accountability for outcome, we’re in it together and joined at the hip,” he said.  

Equally so is the rest of the executive team. “We’re all behind that customer with the brand, customer promise and experience across the enterprise,” Angland said. “We’re an organisation of engineers, and it’s hard at times to get them to create the emotional connection. What I can say in the last 12 months, every one of those staff has spoken to a real life customer and talked about their experience.”

Build on the customer's terms

Former director of IT services at the University of Auckland and now head for Tech Solutions for Business (TS4B), Liz Coulter, said the experience of orchestrating a customer-led transformation is surprisingly similar across both organisations, and comes back to understanding customer journey.

That requires teams to realign and work in an agile way to help bring the customer experience into planning and thinking. At the uni, for instance, a lot of work went into understanding the student journey, experience and where digital could assist.

“At TS4B, it’s about the customer journey and how to make better experience for customer end-to-end and provide better IT service,” she said. “I’m in a group that’s very technologically focused who I’d like to change to be more customer focused but from a digital solutions perspective. How do we move to that digital transition and create digital experiences for them.”

CMO's Nadia Cameron (left) with Liz Coulter
CMO's Nadia Cameron (left) with Liz Coulter

Again, this comes back to team alignment and Angland said the hearts and minds of people are the key. “There will be pockets that resist the change and want it to fail,” he added. “Succeed breeds success."

And it’s success on the customer’s terms that counts, Angland added, so measure value of work based on the value it creates for customers.

“Two years ago, the IT teams declared success at 3am, when a release was deployed in production and smoke tests proved everything was working. Not anymore. Success is determined by what’s the capability doing for the customer and what the teams are saying.”

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