CFO World

Optus CX chief: What it takes to build a customer-obsessed culture

Head of customer experience management and CX innovation lab, Charles Weiser, shares the data, technology, content and brand strategies that enable Optus to increasingly anticipate customer needs


If you’re just going to sit in your functional silo and do more of what you’ve always done, then you’re not going to go far as a customer experience leader.

That’s the view of Optus head of customer experience and CX innovation lab, Charles Weiser, who caught up with CMO to discuss what it takes to not only build great customer experience, but actually exceed expectations.

Weiser’s remit at the Australian telco giant encompasses four areas: Human-centred design; journey analytics and measurement; customer experience transformation; and a CX innovation lab.

For Weiser, the pace of change around industry and technological advancement is unprecedented. As a result, customer experience expectations have transformed to a level undreamt of five or 10 years ago.

Which means CX leaders must innovate. “Innovation is not just about doing new things, but also learning from others,” he says. “Take what you think will work in your environment, test and get it out and create differentiation. If do more of the same, they don’t need you in this role.”  

Here, Weiser tells us what Optus is doing to build great customer experiences, how data is the lifeblood for success, and the role content and connectivity are playing in creating personalised, relevant and value-based engagement in the market.

What makes a great customer experience today?

It starts with the culture of the business. It has to not just be customer centric, but customer obsessed.

If you look at the great businesses now, such as Netflix, Nordstrom, Amazon, Southwest Airlines or Apple, they’re relentless and uncompromising on customer experience. They’re also doing everything they can to continually improve and create a self-reinforcing customer culture where it’s just the norm that everything has to add value to, extend within and create a differentiation. That’s either one the customer either doesn’t notice because it’s so seamless, or that creates a competitive advantage you can’t match with CX in your DNA.

That stems from the leadership of the business genuinely believing in these investments. This is not inexpensive. But think of this analogy: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. For any business, if you think great CX is expensive, try not delivering one.

Is your conception of a great customer experience different to what it was five or 10 years ago?

Yes. It just used to be that you had to deliver a customer service to a standard. That standard was to satisfy. What has happened is that customers around the world don’t just expect a satisfying service now, they expect it to work the way they expect, and in a way that is tailored to them. It can’t just be fit for purpose, it’s almost bespoke.

Digital natives are achieving that through data, which is the lifeblood of the business, and tools that allow a bespoke way of crafting an experience you don’t always necessarily get in legacy businesses.

Experience has to be anticipatory as well as look at emerging needs. This is why data science has become so important. In the digital domain, this is hard to do, but it’s even harder in the ‘phygital’ space. That’s why a retailer like Nordstrom overindexes in customer experience. It takes data and digital and creates a capability to anticipate what a customer needs, then leverages a culture of customer sensitiveness in the physical world to make it happen.

At Optus, it’s not enough for us to compare ourselves to other telcos; we have to compare ourselves to the world’s best brands. Customers are exposed to this daily when they weren’t five or 10 years ago, because we now have a digital platform that’s opened up experiences to everyone anywhere in the world.

What specific steps has Optus taken to become a customer obsessed business? Just judging from your remit, a number of those capabilities didn’t exist a few years ago.

We’re not only alone in that either, it’s accelerated at a rate of knots. We know customers are looking beyond telco services for the experience they want from us. They also want to be always on, in multiple devices at the same time, when they want it, and according to their lifestyles.

Our leadership saw this coming years ago, and our parent company, SingTel, has a customer experience viewpoint emerging too, which is to be always on, providing bespoke experiences in sport, music, entertainment, and data flow. And it has to work. Sounds easy to do, but it’s really hard and we’ve had to set ourselves up and work with our customers around how these experiences are delivered.

It’s not enough to have the content. It has to be tailored, available on multiple devices and through multiple platforms. These are the requirements to be part of the decision making criteria for customers who are ‘telco’ customers.

For example, we bought the rights to the English Premier League (EPL), we have an exclusive deal with National Geographic, and on certain plans, you get free streaming of music. We have Yes TV by Fetch. These are all ways customers are saying they want to have an experience with us. They can get data, phone and text messaging from anywhere.

How important is it then to know your customers and what does it take to achieve clear vision?

We are replatforming the business to achieve it. Firstly, by spending $1 billion per year on our network to ensure it’s a smart network able to create an environment we can anticipate where demand is going to be and meet it.

Secondly, we’re investing in our enterprise CRM, Jarvis. This is about taking data we have about our customers, understanding their patterns and being able to communicate with them in a relevant way by suggesting opportunities, services, products, and events relevant to them. If it’s not, we learn from it, feed it back into the system and ensure we don’t present that offer again to the customer.

Then we have journey analytics, plus our Net Promoter Score (NPS) program, which is about understanding what works and what does not. Then in an agile way, we’re taking all that data and tailoring what we need to then anticipate what products and services might work best in metro areas versus regional, or for an SMB versus a family. Data is the lifeblood of business.

How does this investment shine through at the point of interaction?

A great example is EPL. We know what people are watching. For example, if you’re a Manchester United fan, we won’t send you highlights of what happened with Leicester City. We also provide curated highlights and back catalogue content for your team and plug you into the social environment of people like you. We have a lot of IP we can now bring to bear as we own the content, plus we understand customer preferences in terms of leagues and teams. We then connect the preferences with the product and social and really start learning, tailoring and delivering relevancy and value to what really is by itself, just content. People become really engaged and passionate about it.

Optus has also bought naming rights to new stadium in Perth. We understand sport now and can bring a far more unique experience to Optus stadium you’d get if we didn’t understand some of the fan engagement lessons we’ve learnt through EPL.

How has this impacted the way different functions across the business need to interact?

We take the brand promise very seriously at Optus. So we don’t see lines of demarcation, whether it be a stadium, or streaming service – if it has our name on it, there’s an obligation to have that experience be the best it can be.

To do this, we talk about customer experience in almost every form we make critical decisions in. For example, one criteria for our capital committee for signing off on initiatives is if something will provide a better customer experience and how we’re going to measure that. We have product development teams, where yes, products have to provide an ROI, but won’t get up if they don’t provide a better customer experience. It really is part of the language and DNA of Optus.

Up next: The metrics that help Optus be CX led, plus top tips on leadership

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What metrics and measurements are helping guide your CX approach?

Firstly, we have both market and touchpoint NPS. Along with that, we spend a lot of time looking at the verbatims that go along with it. We match that to usage activity statistics of customers in terms of what they do on the Optus network. It’s less about numbers, but how we are exceeding needs. We have customer groups monthly on different topics, plus as much market research and insight as any world-class company.

We try not to chase a number; we want to get to the root cause and understand the overall shape of performance. That even gets into how products are being consumed, what satisfaction rates are. We know quite quickly through that basket of information how well we are performing and where we need to focus.

Where do you still see a gap in your CX capabilities and areas for improvement?

One is we are trying to be far more personalised in our contact. That is us getting the data in the right shape, so we can be more tailored. We have done a lot of work in personalisation so we can deliver services, products and information that’s relevant.

In addition, our strategy for content and entertainment has been hugely successful and we’re building on that to create better on-boarding digital experiences. We want every interaction with us to be as intuitive and frictionless as possible, which itself is married to personalisation and anticipating the needs of customers even before they know them themselves.

Everyone has questions about their first bill, for instance. We have patterns we recognise on the types of questions people ask so if they have the same type of spending or activity pattern, we can be proactive and create a communication to say here’s how to read your first bill and anticipate those challenges and add value. 

Are there emerging technologies you think will change the CX game further?

There’s a lot of innovation around data analytics, which is still in its infancy and we’re nowhere near climbing the curve of maturity in terms of technology. It keeps getting better and better. I find that really exciting, as we can then start understanding patterns we can use to develop new and emerging products and services and information provisioning we wouldn't have thought of before.

What are the key attributes required to lead customer experience?

In terms of behaviour, the first is to suspend judgement and be a vessel for your customers. Secondly, there’s no compromise. Design for the very best and do not waiver. In any business, it’s easy to be expedient and get it out. You have to resist that. Thirdly, you have to risk being somewhat unpopular. Being uncompromising means you have to be the customer advocate.

As to leadership, you have to be an enterprise thinker. Everyone is the head of customer experience, not just the person with the formal title. The point of that is you have to take an enterprise lens on how to deliver, and be able to manoeuvre through service, technology, digital, finance to deliver an outcome for the customer.

And own the outcome. If it’s a bad experience, I take it personally.

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