CFO World

How this GM is bringing Dodo into the digital age

GM of consumer and digital of telco and energy retailer shares the digital transformation journey he's on and the people, process and technology changes it involves

Vocus general manager of consumer and digital, Stu French, believes the only way to drive transformation home is to literally start changing things, then ask for forgiveness later.

So that’s the approach he’s adopted as he strives to digitise the ASX-listed company’s ailing Dodo consumer telecoms and energy consumer business. And given the significant technology investments, talent recruitment, process changes and brand overhaul underway, nothing short of holistic disruption will do if he’s to point the organisation towards customer relevancy and growth.

As French put it to CMO, when he walked into Vocus, the consumer business was in a dire state, crippled by decade-old, legacy technology. This was compounded by an absence of digital thinking or skillsets, an archaic focus on customer acquisition, and a dominant call centre focused on aggressive selling tactics over service and support.

“It was like going back in time 10 or more years,” French told CMO. “There was no digital team in place, with the exception of one person performing a pseudo-role in a break/fix scenario. The customer acquisition process was lead capture forms, which our Manila outbound call centre would follow up, harassing consumers until they made a purchase. It was a crude acquisition model.

“Once you signed up, almost all welcome material was snail mail, and there was no digital communications strategy. Even if you were coming to us via online, ongoing service and engagement was analogue. It was an operating model with a very a high-cost base.”

The introduction of new executives and board members earlier this year brought with it degrees of digital, consumer, telco and energy expertise which French said provided the ability to finally execute a digital plan to help turnaround the $800 million consumer arm of Vocus. Of course, recognising change is needed and instituting it are two different things. French admitted he continues to face significant challenges as he strives to bring the business into the digital age. A big one is the resource-heavy call centre.

Read more: De Castro exits Vocus following consumer and SMB restructure

But a battle he’s increasingly winning is technology. The initial hurdle was overcoming a preference for on-premise technology and adopting the cloud-based software stack he believed was needed to drive customer agility and responsiveness.  

“I literally went and bought the technology, which went down like a lead balloon. But my view was I won’t even need to ask for forgiveness as the proof will be in the pudding – and that’s exactly what’s happened,” he said. “I was enemy number one for about three months; now I’m moving towards golden child, though who knows, that may change.”

Kicking off a digital transformation

It was clear to French three things should be tackled. The first was removing the brand’s “cheap and tacky feel”, something he’s working to address with Vocus GM of sales and marketing, Andrew Wynne.

In August, the company launched new branding and an above-the-line campaign in partnership with Deloitte Digital. The cartoon bird has been replaced by a CGI rendered one, the ‘Internet that flies’ jingle is gone, and the TV campaign centres around the statement, ‘We are not as stupid as we look’.

“Digitally, the user interface conveyed no professionalism, from the tone of language, positioning of the bird, to creative elements on page,” French said. “The first thing was bringing us up towards the value and budget segments, and we mobilised the rebrand quickly, which played into digital experience overall.”

The second much-needed change was Web user experience. French said the way the group was describing challenging products such as the NBN hindered conversion. “Why customers should move to the new NBN products needed to be articulated very clearly. They shouldn’t have to talk through with someone in Manila, they should be able to get all information they need around products online,” French said.

The Dodo site also had 1200 pages, making it sluggish and complex. Its mobile app had even been kicked out of the Android store. More widely, Dodo suffered from high churn because it lacked basics around how its 1 million customers engage with the business, French said.

“So that content strategy and education component was the second part of the things that had to be address.”

The third thing was technology infrastructure, which was at least 11 years old. “The ability to make front-end or content changes was taking weeks when it should take minutes,” French said.  

All three of these things are now moving forward. “The rebrand is out, and we have a growing content team looking at our tone of voice, FAQs, how we talk about products, NBN and challenging questions around all of the product make-up, giving that momentum,” he said.  

“On the technology side, I’m really happy with how aggressive we have been. We have ‘decapitated the dinosaur’; we’re ripping all the old infrastructure out and putting modern systems in.”

The technology

The first big one is Acquia’s cloud-based content management system (CMS). “That’s a good stake in the sand, as moving to a cloud-based solution wasn’t something we’d even have a conversation about 12 months ago,” French said.  

He’s also repositioning the Salesforce platform internally. “Salesforce was being used to try to wrap disparate systems into a consistent outcome. But you need to replace all those systems, then wrap that in Salesforce so you have both a consistent back and front-end experience,” French said. All up, it’s a three-year change program.  

Another significant technology investment is a customer data platform (CDP) and tag management solution designed to better leverage first-party data internally.

“This is a company very rich in first-party data. Because we sell telco, energy and entertainment products, we have a lot of interesting browsing journey across all our assets, for instance,” French explained. “Yet we’d never really make a conscious effort to bring all that data together and use it to drive personalised customer experiences.”

To do this, he’s rolled out Tealium’s iQ tag management and Audience Stream. Top reasons were the vendor’s agnostic platform, as well as the easy-to-use nature of its offering compared to other solutions. Vocus has also adopted the Google 360 Suite, Optimizely’s platform for personalisation and optimisation, and Tableau for data visualisation.  

“What I didn’t want to do as I looked to simplify the operating model was bring in a full Adobe, Oracle or IBM stack,” French said. “There’s no need to buy a $20 million solution anymore. There are so many agnostic systems on the market, you can build a best-practice model by leveraging core strengths of each vendor offering.”

In the case of Audience Stream, French said the platform will bring together all customer data into on usable state. The team will then use Optimizely to personalise experiences in a “slick and effective way”.

The first use-case going live this week sees Dodo retargeting consumers that have come to the website, viewed particular products, and disappeared over a period of a few months. French said this group represents about 90 per cent of prospects.

“We’ll go to market with a one-to-one offer, point them straight back to specific products, specs and the contracts they looked at, and close down the buying visit to be so simple they can purchase product in a matter of seconds,” French said. Better media targeting forms part of this picture.

The other focus is digital self-service. “We have many customers coming to the website to pay a bill but they still can’t do things like update their information and have to call our call centre,” French said.

“We also want to target them with messages that are not sales-based but service-based. If I’m already a customer and coming to the site, chances are it’s for self-service. We’ll use Tealium for existing customers so when they come back to us, we talk about service and CX.

“That’s a key brand pillar – we’re not selling to you the whole time, we’re trying to deliver a better experience.”

One challenge French faces, however, is winning the hearts and minds – and time – of Vocus’ data team. “They’re very high calibre, but very much under the pump,” he said, noting the emphasis is on commercial data analysis rather than online performance.  

“The data team’s primary focus is on acquiring leads and analysing audience profiles at that level, as well as dealing with various ACCC challenges happening in the telco industry. They’re bombarded and just beginning to understand what we are trying to do with this technology.

“Winning them over goes back to demonstrating the value of this function and technology in the business.”

Up next: How French secured executive buy, the cultural hurdles plus measures required for success

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Securing buy-in

Getting buy-in for such a tech overhaul was no mean feat and French approached it in two ways. With stakeholders who’d previously worked in large corporates and seen sizeable investments being made into next-gen platforms, he worked to demonstrate the lower-cost nature of a best-of-breed stack.

“I was spending $2-3 million on tech, which is a fair amount of money, but I showed the calibre of features and execution of CX these tools can drive is comparable to a $15-20m stack that a Telstra or NAB might have put in,” French said. “Building a componentised and customer-facing architecture gave us a lower-cost approach.”

Winning over stakeholders that hadn’t seen such tech investments or didn’t know what good CX looked like has been much harder.

“There’s no way to win that argument on day one. The best thing to do was wrap up how much maintenance costs were involved with keeping legacy tech alive and show that compared to something sitting on cloud, with high service levels and lower operating costs,” French said. “That I didn’t completely win, but I got ears to prick up once I made noise about how buying something off the shelf would costs one-tenth of what we were spending and give us much better CX.

“Then it’s about showing what we can do with CX, as we can make changes more quickly and be more agile in market.”

French pointed out Dodo’s heritage was as an industry disruptor. “I believe one of the reasons we lost our foothold in the market is because there are so many things in the business that stopped us operating in that way anymore,” he said.

“Technology was one, people are another. This [digital transformation] is about bringing people, process and technology that allows the business to resume the foothold it once had.”

Staff investment  

Instituting such technology-led change is nothing without the right staff. French’s response has been to get a lower but higher calibre headcount. The consumer digital team has 12 staff and French aims to build that to 24. 

“We’re very lean, and working hard to deliver outcomes. We had to bring talent in to show throughput and benefit the investment could deliver to the business,” French said.

Key staff attributes included tenacity and a doggedness to not give up. “Change is so hard to drive…That meant strong personalities and communicators who are very articulate, and who can tailor the conversation. The second skill was people who also have technical depth.

“The third was people wanting to drive a true transformation agenda who could see this as an opportunity to do all these things. It’s been the only way to counter the lack of brand position Vocus has.”

Measuring success  

To showcase success, a number of digital metrics laddering up to KPIs are being employed. Key ones include boosting digital registrations, digitally active users, conversion rates online and customer satisfaction.

Already, French said Dodo’s digital services interactions have risen from 8-9 per cent six months ago to 16 per cent. “All our digital marketing leads are still going to lead capture forms, so any growth has just been through delivering better CX through technology and UI improvements,” he said.  

Since converting the legacy self-service portal to responsive design, Dodo has also seen an 80 per cent uplift in digital service. The next step is a self-service relaunch under the 'MyDodo' platform in December.  

At present, Dodo only tracks Net Promoter Score (NPS) across call centre interactions, but French said introducing strategic NPS across service, sales and the buying experience will further help. The new sales funnel and website are showing 25 per cent improvements to experience NPS, with the goal being to double this again once the team has retired the decade-old Dodo digital assets still live, he said.

Overall, French rated his digitisation efforts a 7.5 out of 10. “The reason we haven’t hit the 8 or 8.5 I was aspiring for is we underestimated a couple of key things,” he said.

A big one was how hard it is to replace technology as old as Dodo had. “All businesses have legacy technology, but not at every layer of the experience and that’s what we found here,” French said.

What he’s been pleasantly surprised by is customer take-up of new experiences. Meanwhile, the rebrand has given the digital team a platform to update online creative and user interfaces, going a long way to removing that cheap and nasty feel.

“It’s been the vehicle for getting support to drive change in creativity in digital, but also the tone of voice, language and content,” he said. “Where it’s challenging for us is experience. We’re going to market with a promise of trust, transparency, progressive, digitisation and CX. But the reality for the majority of our customers… is there’s limited trust in the experience because they’re getting harassed to buy stuff. That’s not a brand that talks to customer value.

“The next big brand challenge is a fundamental change in CX so it’s not about selling anything to anyone at any point of day, but about selling at the right point in time, with the right products and for right challenge customer face.”  

Read more of CMO's digital transformation case studies

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