Ones to Watch

CMO50 2020: Julia Edwards-Smith

  • Name Julia Edwards-Smith
  • Title Group executive, marketing and digital
  • Company McMillan Shakespeare Group
  • Commenced role July 2019
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 8 direct reports; 38 staff
  • Industry Sector Financial Services
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    COVID-19 has allowed Julia Edwards-Smith to lead a team to innovate and roll out new products in an ongoing crisis. "Through customer research and data analysis, we identified a new product offering to disrupt ourselves, but also allow Victorian healthcare workers to feel safer driving to work," explained Edwards-Smith. To do this, a short‐term lease has been developed for essential workers to increase flexibility and reduce the need to take public transport to and from frontline facilities. The MVP has just been rolled out to a number of hospitals across Victoria.

    Marketing effectiveness

    Since March 2020, when the global health pandemic hit Australia, Edwards-Smith has led the customer engagement program, in partnership with key stakeholders, across its group remuneration business that transformed the primary ways they engage with customers. "This involved listening to customers, using data driven insights to keep customers informed and supporting financial well‐being during the pandemic," Edwards-Smith said.

    When the pandemic began in March 2020, the group, in particular its Maxxia and RemServ brands, needed to rapidly find a way to ensure continuity of service to its customers, many of whom were working on the frontline. "We wanted to find ways to continue to make their daily lives easier and ensure that they could maximise their after‐tax remuneration," she said.

    The business challenge was that Maxxia and RemServ traditionally relied heavily on voice and human, face‐to‐face channels. "In response, I formed and led a cross‐functional team to develop a multi‐channel and data‐driven customer engagement program, involving social listening, data mining and customer research that identified  customers still wanted to receive education over the period about how they could maximise their money whilst their meal and entertainment benefit was unable to be utilised given COVID‐19 restrictions," she said. This was a significant pain point, particularly for healthcare workers. The marketing team championed voice of the customer and this allowed key business partners to work with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to support the ability to extend meal and entertainment to takeaway meals for essential workers.

    The business has also developed a B2B2C multi‐channel customer engagement program to support financial well‐being. This program was designed to help customers maximise their tax savings through educating them on their benefits available and to provide discounts at supermarkets through our Maxxia Rewards program.

    A digital transformation program has seen the business pivot from voice and face‐to‐face channels to digital and flexible solutions. Consolidating live chat onto one platform for sales and operations and behaviourally optimising scripting to support customers and overcome key customer barriers. "Through a cross functional working group and external manufacturers, the team developed the ‘Good deals, for good deeds’, utilising data to provide offers tailored to these essential workers," Edwards-Smith said.

    The business has seen strong customer engagement across both brands, with Maxxia and RemServ seeing email open rates significantly above industry best practice. "100% of the operations and sales workforce were able to service customers remotely through LiveChat and compared with the last 18 months, we doubled live chat interactions, including human and AI enabled interactions," she noted.

    McMillan Shakespeare has also increased media efficiency over the period post the first wave, due to continuous media investment when other salary package providers and car dealers pulled out of investing. "This also ensured that we were positioned strongly when coming into a peak period at end of financial year as we remained top of mind for customers," she said.

    "Sustainable employee engagement also increased during the pandemic by 22 per cent, aligning to high performing financial service team norms. This was achieved by supporting both employee and customer wellbeing."

    Influencing change

    The pandemic has accelerated customers’ digital adoption and removed the ability for distribution employees to go onsite to visit customers, including hospitals and corporate head offices across Australia. To respond to changing customer behaviours and business requirements, the distribution model needed to quickly evolve.

    Using qualitative and quantitative customer insights, Edwards-Smith led a team to co‐create the digital distribution experience. Customer journey mapping and user testing was able to highlight various digital solutions required at different stages of the buying stage journey. "This enabled a cross-functional working group to tailor the solutions to meet customer needs. Digitally assisted, rather than digital only, with humans at key moments of truth to explain complex financial products, such as novated leasing and salary packaging," explained Edwards-Smith.

    Key digital solutions were integrated into the experience including remote set up, video content, live streaming, and appointment booking in the customer’s own time. "The team leveraged the upgraded D365 CRM capability and integrated data‐driven marketing automation journey, using the Adobe suite to support the customer journey from buying their car to re‐leasing their car. Importantly marketing attribution was established to be able to track all touchpoints to measure ROI," she said.

    "Throughout the digital transformation of distribution my focus remains on delivering immediate returns for the business but also identifying unmet customer needs, whilst service blue printing the future state experience to drive growth and customer loyalty. This role has required me to be a change agent across MMSG."

    Data-led marketing

    "In partnership with the sales team, we identified a business challenge that a proportion of customers were dropping out of the sales process as they did not understand the benefits of a Novated lease. In order to increase customer engagement and education we embarked on the optimisation of the novated leasing buying journey projec," Edwards-Smith said.

    The program involved significant customer research to understand the core drivers of choice and developed a journey map in partnership with Paper Giants (CX agency) and Decision Design; identified critical moments of truth in the customer buying journey to deliver branded experiences – these included the ability to set up salary packaging remotely and the estimation stage. The other part of the program included segmenting its customer base to provide more targeted messages; co‐creating key assets including the dynamic digital estimate with customers and sales consultants; developing an automated nurture journey using Adobe that provides education over the journey and intervenes at key customer drop out points; and investing in a continuous digital delivery teams to be able to deliver incremental value to the experience and uplift revenue and ROI.

    The branded experience, championing the digital estimate, utilises data and technology to provide a personalised solution for the customer that is grounded in core CX principles. "It was co‐created with our customers and, as a result, the digital estimate will provide clearer education on financial savings; provide control around features to opt into; and become an easier process with more functionality personalised to the customers’ needs. It will increase transparency of fees, rates, product disclosures and provide clear education around the benefits customers receive," she said.

    CX capability

    Over the last 12 months, Edwards-Smith has led the development of digital, CX and data science capability. A core capability that has been pivotal to supporting the development of a consistent and connected customer experience, has been the development of CX and human centred design capability, anchored in behavioural science.

    A key business challenge was that each of the core touchpoints in the novated lease duying journey had been developed in isolation in different areas of the business, and therefore felt disconnected. This was at odds with our vision to deliver ‘the ultimate connected and consistent customer experience’.

    Marketing, digital and CX partnered with sales and decision design, an external behavioural science consultancy, to undertake a research project to uncover and validate previous research around the core divers of choice. Form this a brand blue print was built that was behaviourally optimised. A brand tracker established to measure success.

    "A key challenge in the past has been the difficulty in communicating the commercial returns associated with brand investment. I led the team to pivot the thinking to focus on optimising key branded experiences and measuring uplift on conversion which could demonstrate clear return on brand investment," she said.

    Behavioural optimisation of key touchpoints along the journey has improved the customer experience by providing greater education of financial savings, more ease and control of the process, and enabling confident choice through expertise and greater transparency.

    Key assets were identified along the customer journey which were critical to influence conversion, included the online tools and live chat. These assets were then re‐designed and behaviourally optimised utilising the brand blue print. Marketing attribution was applied and a control put in place to measure performance. The result was a 16 per cent uplift in leads through online tools and a 91 per cent increase in live chat sales over the test period.

    Commercial acumen

    "During the pandemic it was critical that we not only supported our customers but retained our existing novated leasing book," Edwards-Smith explained. "Therefore we pivoted our activity to focus on utilising data and analytics and marketing automation to optimise our existing re‐lease program. This meant that we did not need to invest any incremental marketing budget but could utilise existing in‐house resources and technology to drive greater returns."

    This involved extending the reach of the program to include a service‐based email and social re‐targeting using custom audiences that extended the program reach by 20 per cent; developing additional A/B testing, shifting from sales messages to education/service based messages; introducing an enhanced predictive model to prioritise leads and align sales consultants to the right customers; and introducing an intention survey to be able to further tailor messages over the journey and understand the current trends within the market.

    "The result has been that we were able to not only provide better education and support over the re‐lease journey to our customers but were also able to meet the re‐lease targets over the pandemic," she said.

    COVID-19 innovation

    "During the pandemic, marketing and digital had to shift our approach to focus on employee wellbeing and supporting our customers – many of whom are on the frontline," Edwards-Smith said.

    Over this period, the MMSG brand plan had a three phased approach: Turning inwards – protecting our people and supply chain; listening to customers – understanding how the context has now changed; and human centred action – making meaningful difference to our customers and people where possible.

    The marketing comms team supported the digital internal communications plan which involved featuring key MMSG leaders. The digital team worked closely with the IT team to enable the sales and operations team to work remotely. The comms program’s goal was aimed at keeping employees informed and protecting their well‐being. The team, in partnership with HR and corporate affairs, overhauled the intranet with 995 unique views and 17k visits in June.

    Over this period, a key pain point for working parents was the juggle of work and home schooling. "I partnered with HR to introduce ‘Circle In’ to the MMSG family. Circle In are the number one global working parent connection platform that drives employee engagement. We share the belief with them that when working parents get the support they need, everyone benefits," Edwards-Smith said.

    As a result, a pulse survey indicated in May 2020, that the marketing and digital team sustainable engagement increased by 22 per cent compared to the same period prior and aligned to high performing financial services norms – employees felt supported and informed during the uncertainty.

    To listen more effectively to customers, the organisation engaged in ongoing social listening and gaining insights from sales and operations to understand key customer pain points and opportunities to create value. These insights helped to inform the communications plan and product innovation.

    In terms of Human Centred action, the communications and product development program was aimed at developing communications and value‐add that would provide support to customers and help them with their financial well‐being over the pandemic.

    This involved widespread crisis communications to B2B and B2C customers, providing individual support for clients who have had staff impacted by COVID‐19 and where customers have gone into hardship;  communicating ways that customers could maximise their benefits; setting up online education where site visits weren't possible. It also saw a new edition of the quarterly and personalised digital ‘Benefits Bulletin’ focused on financial wellbeing and maximising benefits.

    "I was extremely proud of how the marketing and digital team worked to collaborate with the business to pivot the employee and customer engagement programs to prioritise wellbeing and ongoing support to both employees and customers," Edwards-Smith said.

    Cross-functional collaboration

    Edwards-Smith has fostered collaboration through the re‐design of the marketing and digital team over the last 12 months to transform the team from largely a communications team to a customer engagement and digital transformation team.

    "I worked with key executive stakeholders to understand business requirements, their pain points and unmet needs to re‐imagine the marketing and digital team. We are now seen as strategic partners and are leading transformational change across MMSG. Moving from communications to being a data‐driven strategic thought leader," she said.

    New capability has been brought onboard to support MMSG in making the shift to digital to improve the customer experience and reduce cost to serve. Strong collaborative relationships have been built at all levels across the business including with IT, corporate affairs, sales, operations and distribution.

    Re‐imagining the team and embedding a collaborative operating rhythm has resulted in an increase in the marketing and digital team employee engagement by 22 per cent yoy and over 5 per cent growth in novated leasing sales, despite the COVID 19 pandemic.

    "I believe that the three most important skills of a modern marketing and digital team are data-driven decision making, being customer obsessed and commercial savviness, Edwards-Smith said. "These three important skills allow marketers to be seen as a key strategic partner who can help to drive the growth of the business – so not only the customer advocate, but also a business partner to identify opportunities to grow revenue or achieve greater efficiencies."

    And one of the things Edwards-Smith is looking forward to developing is bringing diverse thinking to the table.  "You need core skill-sets that can apply the following four lenses: customer desirability, feasibility, viability and sustainability.  That’s the true sweet spot to innovation. And, of course, you need to give people the space they need to think, be creative and have fun," she said.

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