Nobody gets out of bed in the morning determined to make their consumer lives harder. Indeed, these days, building a customer-first culture is critical to success. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Which-50 and MediaMath recently convened a Thought Leadership Lab (TLL) in Sydney with representatives from the banking, finance, FMCG, property, media, and technology industries to deep-dive into these issues.

Not all participants were authorised to speak for their companies, so we have included their ideas and insights without reference to their organisations to enable them to share freely.

The first lesson to emerge from the day was that despite (or perhaps because of) all the development in digital technology, and the emergence of sophisticated platforms and analytics, the actual work of putting the customer-first is as complex as ever.

Gone are the days when companies only had one or two channels to consider. In some industries, consumers may have as many as 20 to 25 different ways they can connect to a brand.

All of those various touch points need to be connectable, and data needs to flow seamlessly and immediately across all the various internal boundaries that make up the departments of the modern enterprise, in order to get the immediate customer requirement.

Even when the number of channels is smaller, new channels emerge, each with their own complexities and challenges.

Take radio, for instance. In the past, you might have sweated on whether the consumer was listening to you in a car or at their kitchen table. Technology has changed that mindset forever.

According to a Digital Platforms manager at one of the country’s leading radio stations, “We’re fundamentally a radio company, but really what we are is audio everywhere”.

The executive’s company now focuses on traditional broadcast, as well as on streaming, and it also has a large podcast network which extends beyond the typical radio content.

“Wherever consumers are going to consume audio, we’re going to go there as well. That’s the future state for us.”

Connected home is another area where the media company needs to understand its place in the hearts and minds of its audience. “Yeah, that’s the next big audio channel. It’s about working out a connected home strategy. How do our consumers, our listeners, find us on those platforms? How do you get the skills to integrate into the devices and then you know, how do you commercialise it?”

And it needs to do this in the context where its traditional agency partners who might have been expected to do some of the heavy lifting in research and strategy in the past, are also trying to find their feet.

“Consumers are way ahead of marketers in that sense. Marketers are still grappling with issues such as measuring ROI whereas consumers already love the channel,” she said.

For executives like this, a big part of the challenge is applying measurement to these new channels. “We need to understand who is the real audience. So it’s about getting the DMP [data management platform] in place. It’s about partnering with companies that are really rich in data, and having that second-party data partnership to help us better understand who is actually engaging on our websites with us. That also means finding a compelling reason for people to register or log in with us so we can properly track them.”

Complexity, plus

The challenges are even more complex in an environment like banking, where there are greater needs around security as well as strict regulatory compliance rules.

One Thought Leadership Lab participant from the FSI sector stressed the criticality of trust. “If you call us it’s probably because you have an issue with your account. But to meet that need there is a whole layer of security and authentication that needs to be addressed.”

“Omnichannel is really tough. It’s easy [for other industries] for repeatable, simple inquiries, but it’s difficult for banking. How do we know that it’s actually you on the other end?” said a banking industry participant.

The way consumers want to talk to their financial institutions is also changing, said the executive, whose remit includes innovation.

“We have seen a big change in the percentage of telephone inquiries. People don’t want to sit on the phone, whether it’s a very short or long call. Emails are ramping up, and inquiries through our Facebook channels, our social media is incredibly strong. So now we’re looking at options with chat.”

While these are very different industries with very different deliverables, beneath it all there is a remarkable consistency when it comes to developing a customer-first culture.

Technology is recognised as a great enabler. However it is not so much the technology, but the expertise and capabilities that companies build around their chosen solutions that makes the biggest difference.

“We can help fill gaps in talent and help them create a programmatic strategy from scratch. We can help them collect, manage and understand the value of their first-party data. Many of our clients were not utilising programmatic before working with us. Clients overall need a willingness to trust us as experts and also be open to innovative thinking to help reach their goals.”

Getting the right people and keeping them is hard work — and not for the reason you might imagine, say industry leaders.

In a city like Melbourne, large corporates like NAB, ANZ, BUPA, Telstra and Medibank are all undergoing transformation programs and generating demand for skills at the same time. But the problem isn’t simply a scarcity of skills. Pinching each other’s staff won’t actually solve the problem, according to our TLL participants.

“I challenge some of my peers and colleagues about recruiting from that talent pool,” one participant said. “The problem is that none of those companies has reached a future state. I just find it mind-boggling that when we are recruiting, we want to transform to be a customer-led organisation, we want to consider new ways of working, and yet our recruiters are targeting every other enterprise that’s trying to transform. They haven’t cracked it, so why are we recruiting from them?”

Instead, said one transformation leader from the health sector, “You need some people who have worked in the future state, in digital businesses, as well as master practitioners from your core.”

Understanding the future state is an important element in success. According to Media Math country manager, Yun Yip, “Understanding the future state is important because it curbs short-sighted decision-making that can lead to challenges down the line. Where we see this often is in shifting clients to KPIs that drive true business outcomes.”

Companies need to change how they incentivise their teams, including how the team is structured, how they think about their budget to prioritise KPIs that will drive loyalty or customer lifetime value.

MediaMath ANZ country manager, Yun Yip

“Clicks might drive immediate performance, but they do not make for repeat customers. Ultimately, we want the companies we work with to understand that we can actually help them drive more sales, no clicks or impressions, but they have to be willing to change how they’ve thought about paid media to get there,” she said.

The MediaMath MD also told Which-50, “Clients need a willingness to trust us as experts and also be open to innovative thinking to help reach their goals.”

“We can help fill gaps in talent and help them create a programmatic strategy from scratch. We can help them collect, manage and understand the value of their first-party data. Many of our clients were not utilising programmatic before working with us.”

Lifetime value

Ultimately all of this change is happening with a single purpose in mind: to improve the lifetime value of customers by building a more deeply embedded relationship. The more companies understand the needs of their consumer, and the faster they are able to respond to those needs, the more competitive they will be in a market where the customer experience sits at the core.

Jonas Jaanimagi is now the Technology Lead for the IAB. He previously worked for online real estate company REA Group as its Head of Media Strategy and Operations.

“I think if you listen to some of the companies around this table about what they are seeking to achieve around the consumer journey, there is a real complexity to managing that across the wide scale of these businesses. What often happens is you have silos built around your CRM implementation or your email strategy, and there are all these moving parts. But you need to think about it strategically and view it from a holistic perspective to understand what needs to achieved and what the solutions are to achieve that.”

Jaanimagi said, “It’s surprising to me that very often the basic thinking that’s across the entire business has not been done before those same businesses go looking for answers.

“Changes in one part of the business often end up touching almost everything, to the point where it feels unexpected and the disruption internally can feel quite extreme.”

He told Which-50, “What happens next is you end up compromising in terms of solutions and moulding yourselves around the technology, rather than the other way round.”

The changes implemented in the process of educating and informing all the stakeholders need to continue.

According to Amy Jansen Flynn, audience and automation, commercial product manager, at REA Group, “We’ve been working with MediaMath for a really long time, across all of our business functions and across all of our different customer sets as well as our own marketing activity.”

Amy Jansen Flynn

“I recently had a call from a product manager in one of the other business units one day saying, ‘This guy sent me this email and he wants us to sign up with this technology and it can do all this stuff.’ He was very excited but I had to tell him, ‘Yeah, we can already do all that’.”

She said this experience reminded her of the importance of centralising the overall strategy, and of the need to keep the communication lines open, even months and years after implementation.

The radio executive concurred. “A few years ago we did add all the bells and whistles of the technology, but we then lost the talent. And the skill set was lost to the business, which meant the technology was under-utilised.”

The lesson, she says, is that you can have the greatest platform in the world, but if you don’t have the skills or people with the relationships to push it out to all the business units, you won’t get the same return from your investment in the platform.

The work of maximising the return on any technology investment doesn’t end when the implementation is complete, says Jaanimagi. It is an ongoing process.

“You have to bring everyone on the journey like you’re coaching a team —but it doesn’t stop once you go live. My only regret at REA was that I wish I had been a bit more relentless post adoption to help drive the internal awareness.”

Jansen Flynn, meanwhile, stresses the importance of cross-skilling — even if for the time being your staff retention is strong.

“We do try to mitigate that risk by making sure everyone can do more than one thing. It protects you when people go on leave or people resign. Make sure staff are more diverse in the platforms they can use. For instance, can they both sell and buy inventory, and do they know how to activate different data centres.”

“Three things are important,” says a health sector executive. “Get the enabling technology right first, get the culture piece right and think hard about the skills piece, and that’s often where it falls down.”

“You know you’ve got to take the leap because you’re trying to build capability,” he said. “But when people leave, that’s when you really understand whether you really have a capability, or whether it’s just a collection people.”

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