CMO roundtable: Customer engagement and building the new marketing remit

In the first CMO New Zealand roundtable, sponsored by Microsoft, we debated the nature of modern marketing strategy in a world where customers control the conversation

The rise of connected, ever-more knowledgeable customers has changed the very nature of modern marketing.

Gone are the days when marketing was simply about crafting a clever push campaign or TV ad, or finding a fresh prospect then handing them over to the sales or customer service departments. Today, marketers are not just expected to understand what makes customers tick, but to also identify, influence and enhance their experience across every interaction with their organisation.

In our first New Zealand roundtable, CMO and our event sponsor, Microsoft, brought local marketers and digital leaders together to debate customer-centric marketing, the challenges in orchestrating customer-led change within organisations, and increasingly, how marketing is taking a leading role in product innovation.

A full pictorial slideshow of the roundtable is also available online.

Burning platforms

Attaining a customer-oriented culture and mindset is vital to ensuring an organisation engages with customers in a relevant, value-driven way. ASB Group head of digital strategy, Roxanne Salton, said the customer is at the centre of any conversation had internally, and product improvement and interaction are part of meeting the customer’s needs.

Ultimately, the burning platform for change is customers themselves, she claimed.

“As customer experience, convenience and control become the only options, companies have to undergo significant change to meet these needs or risk losing customers who are very vocal on their way out the door,” she said.

Salton noted the pace of change is digitally driven and global, and that the ability to meet a customer’s needs hinges on digital services. “We no longer compete with 2-3 key competitors; we compete with hundreds of smaller disrupting players as well as our old foes,” she added.

“Through all this disruption, one thing remains true: The customer will ultimately decide who wins and who loses.”

The end consumer's needs are high on the agenda at B2B cinema software vendor, Vista Group International, and marketing director, Christine Fenby, said the moviegoer is increasingly at the heart of marketing conversations internally.

Marketing director for Microsoft NZ, Frazer Scott, is focused on ensuring every marketing execution undertaken results in a positive customer experience. “This is both in terms of the platform and accuracy/honesty of the conversation, and the relevance,” he said.

According to Scott, the wider organisation’s ability to be customer-centric is a work in progress.

“That is the challenge of being a global organisation with marketing hubs in corporate HQ, area HQ and then locally,” he said. “The old Microsoft was also more of a product-led organisation. Under Satya Nadella’s [CEO] leadership, we are becoming more customer obsessed and focused in our organisational approach.”

One of the burning platforms for change is the shift from on-premise to as-a-service solutions, which has seen the buyer profile shift from IT to business decision makers across all parts of an organisation.

“We need to build a deeper understanding of different audiences and their drivers,” Scott said.

Growers organisation, Wilcox, has a number of business priorities around sustainable growing efficiencies, but there’s also been significant effort put into developing consumer insights in recent years, said CMO, Dean Langrell-Read.

"Wilcox has been growing vegetables for four generations and in that time the route to market has changed significantly, with supermarkets our largest direct domestic customer,” he said. “Supermarkets are becoming increasingly sophisticated at understanding how their customers shop and what motivates them to purchase, but they still expect suppliers to be experts in their own categories.

“We need to demonstrate leadership and add real value to the relationship by not only bringing products to the table that excite consumers, but also by being able to tell the story about the journey from ‘field to fork’.”

Building the framework for CX

GM marketing and communications at Auckland Airport, Jason Delamore, is sponsoring the company’s customer experience efforts at leadership level. His role is to help develop frameworks and tools that can be used pan-business and to provide greater consistency and efficiency.

Last year, the airport embarked on a program of work to understand customer journeys and touch points within and around the airport.

“It was about extending knowledge into both the digital and physical components of the customer journey,” Delamore said. “The challenge is we are a scale business, but have limited visibility on who our customers are, and therefore how we can better serve them.”

This work has contributed to a robust customer experience framework, and the task is now to implement the plans to best effect, he said. The impetus for change was delivering a better customer experience that, in turn, drives business performance. The work also links to a wider, 30-year vision around travel trends and how the airport will impact customer journeys into the future.

Delamore highlighted the importance of “relevance and reciprocity”. He pointed to third-party mobile apps and partnerships, such as TripIT, as examples of Auckland Airport extending its reach by improving relevancy to the end consumer throughout their travel journey.

“It was critical to be relevant to travellers beyond the physical footprint of the terminal, where it makes sense. We want to find ways to improve the travel experience for all flyers, regardless of airline or class of travel,” Delamore said. “Quality data then enables companies to deliver timely and relevant information- both for offers and in ways that improve the overall experience.”

Hurdles in putting customers first

While those around the table were similarly keen to base business decisions on the needs of customers, execution is often playing catch up. Challenges stretch from leadership and culture through to team agility, actioning data, and marketing’s ongoing reputation in the business.

In fact, more than one marketer said marketing is still misunderstood in terms of its ability to produce strategic, customer growth for the organisation. One marketing leader in an education and training provider, for example, said trying to articulate a customer experience message internally often results in blank looks. Recent acquisitions and distinct owner-business cultures haven’t helped.

“Many of our customers are 18 to 25 year olds, which is a segment well out of [leadership]’s headspace,” the marketer said. “Customer experience knowledge is non-existent, and there is a lack of understanding of what marketing is. They don’t see the strategy in what we do, so it can be difficult to explain programs to executives.”

For Delamore, the challenge of having multiple stakeholders in the airport experience is an area of focus.

“To be truly successful, we need to keep building on collaboration,” he commented. “Instilling confidence in the relevancy of your brand is a big role for CMOs.”

At water and waste management group, Hynds, being customer-led is complicated by the fact that a small base of named accounts hides a wider array of users and influencers within end organisations, general manager, Tony McAlwee, said.

Scott saw acquisition and maintenance of customer data as a major stumbling block. “Our customers expect blue chip organisations to be able to provide them with compelling offers,” he said.

“This is compounded by the number of small businesses in NZ and the rate at which their details change, for example, in the B2B marketing space. Like any business, there can be the challenge of the organisation having its own goals top of mind, such as hitting budgets. While I don’t see having customer centricity and business success as a dilemma, you do have to carefully message internally that it’s not either/or – it’s both.”

Up next: How attendees are making customer engagement a reality

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Making customer engagement happen

Building customer focus also means getting insights from the horse’s mouth. Fenby advised forming development partnerships with customers and involving them in R&D with appropriate benefits, fostering close relationships between internal staff and your customer’s people, and communicating via multiple channels by focusing on new thinking and comment, as worthwhile activities.

At Wilcox, teams take time to interact face-to-face with customers as well as through research, Langrell-Read said.

"The management team get involved with store visits and buyer behaviour observations, and we are looking to extend this to some of the in-store demonstrations,” he added.

More recently, social media is giving the end consumer a platform to communicate with more immediacy and helping brands better listen to their needs, Langrell-Read said. As a consequence, Wilcox has moved away from a pure advertising strategy to content-led engagement, all around its messaging of “growing for good”.

At Vista, the emphasis is on investing in new communication channels and campaigns to collective and wider industry audiences, Fenby said.

“We are tailoring our communication to focus on the benefits our products deliver and the problems/issues that our prospective audiences may be experiencing that our products resolve,” she said. “We are putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes and looking to deliver emotive, thought-provoking information. We are supporting the strategy actively with social media and via our website with promotions, links to articles, and comprehensive content.

“We are also catering to a multi-language operating environment that involves a large commitment to translation.”

In addition, Vista harvests big data from its Movio cinema and loyalty program offers – Movio Cinema and Movio Media – to help its customers configure offers using specific demographics and behavioural information.

“Movio software enables unprecedented, targeted marketing campaigns for film industry players. It is a very exciting product and a critical part of the success of Vista Group,” Fenby said.

Scott said marketing campaigns should ideally be built to be responsive to customer feedback.

“If you have a rigid strategy, you lose the opportunity to hone your messaging and mechanics,” he said.

It’s not just marketing programs, however, but wider product development that needs a shake-up if organisations are to become truly customer focused. Salton suggested product innovation was a question of what customers complain about, and what gap should be fulfilled.

“For a year, we had the experiments program as its own standalone area, which this year has been rolled back out into BAU with champions in all areas. It’s been really interesting to see that the culture of experimentation is continuing at pace and hasn’t lost any of its momentum,” she said.

One of the challenges with a new product or idea is that it may not make money immediately.

“Sometimes we’re innovating because we have to, versus trying to solve an issue for customers,” Saltoncontinued. “In some instances, we cannot predict for sure that the experience will deliver a new revenue source but it can ‘disrupt’ and re-imagine how we do what we do every day.”

A recent example is ASB’s Clever Kash, a cashless money box for kids. “Clever Kash seeks to engage and re-think how we can innovate and create a new experience that will drive engagement and brand loyalty,” Saltonsaid.

Delamore highlighted rapid prototyping and involving customers in the design and testing process as key, while McAlwee questioned innovation versus effectiveness, stressing the need for balance.

“We should try lots of things, and know many will fail,” he said. “We also have a strong focus on service and process innovation, and this is extending to our communication systems.”

Sky Television director of marketing, Michael Watson, saw disruptive technology creating as much of an opportunity to innovate as a threat. “Our ability to deliver great customer experiences is made easier by the data and distribution the Internet brings,” he said.

The biggest current hurdle Watson saw is connecting the data dots.

“SKY has 800,000+ Skyboxes in our customers’ homes. Each of those boxes is a veritable goldmine in terms of the data they can deliver to help us add value to our customers,” he said. “Managing such big data and making meaningful use of it is going to be challenging.”

There is also a wider disconnect around the customer view about understanding value, compared to the way services are delivered, which Sky is working to address, he said. Watson added “a winning experience drives value”. In Sky’s case, and in many non-commoditised businesses, this revolves around content.

“We are acutely aware of the fact we are transitioning away from being just a TV broadcast company,” Watson said. “We need to do this in order to put customers first. For the foreseeable future satellite delivery, with an IP connection, will still be the best way to serve a large majority of New Zealanders.

“We have a history of disrupting ourselves so while we are not fazed by this, it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest changes in our history.”

Metrics and objectives required

Attendees also delved into metrics being used to support a customer experience-led approach. Scott said using customer satisfaction surveys is clearly required, but also mandated marketers spend a certain percentage of their time in the field, working inside the sales teams, and listening to customer service calls.

At a brand level, Delamore said complex organisations should not only be employing measures like Net Promoter Score, but have customer feedback loops that are both granular and dynamic in order to address experience issues as they arise. Auckland Airport also has regular customer surveys, uses social media to help gauge the voice of the customer, and is investigating mobile technology to assist.

Whatever metrics are employed, they must be treated as an outcome, not as the driver, Salton said.

“KPIs like voice of customer, reduction of complaints, customer satisfaction are key to understanding the emotional relationship customers have with your organisation,” she said.

Scott is spearheading several initiatives at Microsoft to emphasise customer engagement. Bringing in the voice of the customer, from the initial design all the way through to product build, is a vital, he said.

“Windows 10 illustrates that perfectly – that is the result of not only our engineers, but 6 million Windows users [called Insiders] who trialled early versions of the product and provided heaps of feedback on what they liked, and what they didn’t,” he added. “The result is our most successful Windows platform ever, with very high customer satisfaction – because our customers built it.”

Watson shared an example of leveraging social media insights to help secure buy-in for Sky’s loyalty program.

“A constant refrain from our customers on social media and elsewhere, is that SKY is seen as rewarding new customers while taking existing long-term customers for granted,” he said. “Banks, telcos and others all face the conundrum of giving meaningful rewards for a very large customer base who each make a small contribution to the bottom line.

“I was able to bring this sentiment to our CEO and board who are favourably disposed to a loyalty scheme that will offer our customers a great bonus, personal to them, for being a subscriber without breaking the bank.”

Ultimately, making sure the customer’s voice is heard is about spending more time talking and listening to them, Scott said.

“We need to get the direct truth, not a refraction from other teams,” he said. “Our teams go on listening tours, getting cross-sections of our customers together and hear their concerns, and their areas of delight. It is also about championing customers in every conversation – marketing, sales or operations by simply asking, ‘What does the customer want?’.”