15: How Customer Experience ate the marketing profession

John O'Neill

Joanne Stone, Director of Customer Experience at recruitment firm Hudson Asia Pacific, explains how marketing as a profession has become less about campaigns and more about engaging touch points along a customer journey.

John: Today I’m in Circular Quay in Sydney, where I’m joined by Joanne Stone. Joanne is the director of Customer Experience at Hudson, Asia Pacific. Now, Hudson specialises in recruitment and talent management and helps connect and support organisations and their employees. But not only is Joanne successful in her career, she’s also a mother and has openly spoken about her decision to not conform to traditional stay-at-home mum lifestyle. And we’ll hear a bit during today’s interview about how this ultimately allowed Joanne to pursue a passion for customer experience. Joanne, welcome to Customers Matter.

Joanne: Thank you.

John: So, your career has taken you from marketing and PR, to program manager to customer experience. Can you just tell me, what’s been the trajectory? Where did you start and how did you get here?

Joanne: It’s been an interesting journey and one that I think you certainly would never predict sitting at university that you’d end up where you are today. I did an Undergraduate at UTS in Marketing and International Business. I’ve always had a passion for travel and things like that. After uni, I did the London thing for a couple of years, got into banking there, because I was all about ‘how do I earn the most amount of pounds in the shortest amount of time possible’. The goal was travel, so I think I’ve always been pretty clear on what I’m trying to get out of where I am, whether that’s money or travelling. Then coming home after three years, I then moved back into marketing, which is where my career has been. Obviously I studied there and then went from travel into US listed insurance companies. I was in there for around seven years, where I started to learn a bit more about the customer and their end goal and a few things like that, and then moved into another professional services firm around 2011. So it’s been an interesting journey moving I guess up the marketing trajectory, so from specialist to manager, and then took on the job here at Hudson as CMO. So for me, I was here in the marketing role for about 12 months. But it was in that time and in my last role was where I started to work out that marketing is changing a lot. It’s becoming less about your traditional campaign management and less about promotions and things like that. It’s becoming more about the customer and what is the customer journey. And I didn’t realise it, but even here when I was at Hudson before, I’d heard of a journey map – I was doing them. I was starting to draw things on the board and my team would go, oh, another Jo on the whiteboard, here we go again! But for me, it was important to try to think about what are we actually trying to achieve here. And this I guess goes back to some roots in branding as well, where you’re thinking about this is not just about this one particular interaction; it’s about what’s their entire interaction with the brand. So in my role at Hudson, I’ve been here almost four years now, moved from that marketing role when the person came back from maternity leave I was covering; Mark Steyn, our CEO, said we’d like to keep you. I think I think differently to a lot of people, which can be a blessing and a curse, and then moved into a customer experience role. So it’s been a broad role. I think I’m someone who I like to learn; I like to do things differently. I’m never afraid of a challenge. I think I’m often referred to as somebody who can get stuff done! So often I’m put in roles where it’s a case of this isn’t working, can you help fix it and drive it and move it? So that’s I think for me been one of the tenets of my career, it’s how do I find learning opportunities and how do I really drive for success in wherever I am?

John: Certainly an old adage – if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

Joanne: Yes!

John: It’s interesting that you mention that your view of what marketing is changed and that really we’re talking about the experience of an organisation becomes its brand. Of course, the way you can interact and have an experience with an organisation is now much more multidimensional and much more two-way perhaps. What do you see as being the things that really change things up? Is it social media? Where did it start to gel that things were different to the way you might have been taught?

Joanne: There was no online when I was at uni, there were no websites, there was no digital and certainly no social media. So for me, it was as things started to become more digital and when it became less about you controlling the experience. So as a company when you’ve got somebody walking into your store or your outlet of whatever kind, they’re dealing with your people or your advisors or your products, you control that whole thing. Now you’ve got digital people that your interaction with them is actually a very small part of their whole interaction with your brand, whether that’s through social, word of mouth, everyone is doing umpteen stats on how much research they do before they even approach you, even in B2B purchases. So you lose control of that. And I think in an era of social media as well, word of mouth becomes even more important because there’s now so much information, who on earth do you trust? So you start going out more to your networks, which you can build, thanks to LinkedIn, and you start saying, guys, anybody found this, what vendors do you recommend? So it’s when you start thinking this is not just about running campaigns, because they’re actually going to see through whatever I tell them and they’re going to actually go and find out the information for themselves. So it becomes less about one way push marketing and us telling you what you need to know, as to helping people actually understand what their problems are in the first place and then trying to tailor it to them. I don’t think there’s been a Big Bang, from my perspective; it’s been something gradual over time. But certainly, since the introduction of social media, that’s been a game-changer for any company.

John: If we think about that, move it from the abstract to the Hudson context, what has it meant that you now do differently to what you would have done as a marketer, now being the person who’s responsible for customer experience? And really what you’re saying I think is that your role as customer experience director is the new marketer?

Joanne: I think it’s evolving that way. I think it’s something that certainly here, we still have a marketing department, we have a strong marketing department who are doing all kinds of interesting campaigns and things around EVP and we’re across five countries, so they’ve got a lot of work to do. But for me, marketing as a profession is becoming less about those specific campaigns and more about touch points along the journey. I don’t have marketing under my remit here, clearly. But the one thing with customer experience is you don’t belong to any silo. That’s where I guess the joy and the challenges can be, because you’re a bit of IT, a bit of marketing, a bit of operations, a bit of service; you’re a bit of everything. And it’s trying to find a way to connect what you need to do to help the journey, with people who are responsible for bits of that journey.

John: So to get down to some tintacks, what are the things that you’ve said about understanding, and then how have you gone about delivering on customer experience within Hudson?

Joanne: So we’ve been on an interesting journey from a customer experience perspective. So we are I guess still moving at the more tactical level, trying to move up that curve. So we do have customer experience, for us it’s client experience and candidate experience are our customers. Our customers I believe are also our staff, so our consultants. We have a number of many, it’s not just one customer, we have them as part of our core strategy and they’re very much about how do we help improve that experience and how do we use our core differentiators to drive that and to drive differentiation in the market. So for us, it’s just been a balance of doing some on-boarding streamlining; we’ve done a number of different projects here and there. But we need to get a few fundamentals right, which are exciting and in progress.

John: It’s one of the dynamics of the contemporary marketplace; the big players almost always have legacy systems. And this is where the disruption can happen, because you’re trying to turn a ship and you get these agile guys who leap up and down, and suddenly they’ve designed a customer experience, it’s all happening off a phone. So it’s quite a challenge trying to work out how to get the blend of what to do about the legacy systems that are driving the constraints of a good customer experience, and also how to, at the same time, give customers confidence that something is changing.

Joanne: I know, and I guess the flipside of that, I was speaking to at a conference recently one of the senior execs at Uber. I said it must be so great to be so agile and nimble. He said, yes, but the flipside is we started off small and did it cheap. Now we’ve scaled and we’re sitting here thinking this isn’t fit for purpose anymore. So they’re also replacing their payroll system. So I think we forget that while we all sit here and think we’ve got legacy and it’s not fit for purpose, other people also have that problem who were successful start-ups. Everyone is battling their own issues and it’s very rare to get an organisation that is perfectly right-sized and with nothing to fix.

John: I love that you say that. I met recently with an entrepreneur who started a travel business four years ago. It now does more than 100 million in turnover per annum and they’ve just had to invest massively in moving from Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, into an enterprise resource system and a CRM system that’s built off the back of sales force. So for them, suddenly being grownup meant getting grownup systems.

Joanne: That’s the problem – they invest and they are so quick because they can do Google Docs and they can just buy MYOB and they can buy everything and they can be up and running in an hour. But as you said, the systems and the processes that are needed to support a start-up, it’s fine for a while, but then you have the great problem of growing and needing to scale; you then need to scale too. So it’s not just the big guys who are facing disruption – everybody has their own battles to fight for.

John: The other big conversation that’s going on now is of course data and artificial intelligence, which is a variation on data, and the use of algorithms. What do you see is the role of AI and also data in understanding and enabling better customer experiences?

Joanne: I think data is really important. I think without that, we tend to make assumptions and we can take guesses based on our knowledge of the experience, which is often our own perspective and it’s often not the customer’s perspective. So without that data, you’re based on hunches. The challenge is getting data that matches up from what you’ve got internally or what you’ve done from research, with what your customers want. So blending those two is not easy, but I certainly think AI is going to have a big role to play and the various other technologies that are around – insert buzzword here – that are going to help with that. I definitely think wherever you can use data to support a decision; you’ve got to do it.

John: How is that working in what you do, as you think about customer experience within Hudson? Are you thinking about data? What’s the trade-off between deep focus groups with members of your target audience, versus trying to glean insights from online behaviours or data that you can see in some other way, shape or form? How are you managing those different approaches?

Joanne: Like many companies, we have no shortage of data. We have however many millions of CVs in our database and our consultants are doing all kinds of activities. So I think we’re in the process of working out how do we best use that, how do we use better predictive analytics, or how do we use new technology to make best use of that. For us from a customer experience perspective, we’re still relatively new to our journey of this. So for us, it’s more about internal data, how do we use our NPS or our customer listening, particularly in insights on where are the problem areas and how do we try to fix them. So at the moment, we’re still I guess moving up that curve and working out how do we better blend data from different sources to move forward.

John: Just while you mentioned NPS, we’ve been discussing this in my business and with some of our clients recently. NPS can shift according to the currency of a transaction, the importance of it in your life. There are many subtleties and I’m not sure that the Net Promoter Score, as applied to a simple dashboard, has always been measuring some of the things that are more subtle and can really affect an outcome. But it’s become a currency. Have you thought about some of the issues that attach to how you actually gauge and measure success? If so, what are your thoughts in that regard?

Joanne: We need to look at our entire customer listening ecosystem in terms of what is the right metric? Because for us, we have a very big funnel in terms of how many applications we get, versus the amount of people that we can place. So asking somebody who has maybe applied for ten jobs from us and not been successful, is that really the right time to ask them about an NPS? So we’ve got to work out what’s the right metric for the right phase of the journey. But I’m also a believer that it doesn’t matter what metric we use, it’s got to be right for the touch point, but I’m more about what’s the delta in that, what’s driving it and understanding it. I mean there’s lots of research that says it doesn’t matter whether you use cease out NPS, whatever you use, the most important thing is to have one, to measure it and to measure what’s driving it. So if you can work out what’s causing dissatisfaction or your detractors, then you need to act on that. And also, I’d love to know what’s the relationship between how do you move someone from a detractor to a neutral or a passive or into a promoter and what’s the benefit of doing that? So then you work out where to invest, what’s going to drive your best business grow th. So that’s something that certainly is on the radar.

John: We touched a little before on disruption and technology and so forth. I’m going to go all HR tech geek for a moment. Tell me about talent communities and the platforms that are popping up now. What’s this all about?

Joanne: As you said, HR tech is very big. We participated in a tech accelerator earlier this year with Slingshot and Seek, who are a big linkage of corporates with the start-up community. As you said, there’s no shortage. Some are listing, some are booming. I certainly think that’s something that people are now more looking at talent in a different way. And it’s becoming more about finding passive or people who are perhaps not looking on Seek every day to apply for jobs. So how do I work with them? How do I engage with them throughout their career, so that I can then tap into that hidden talent who aren’t on Seek, don’t know what they next want, but I’ve got the perfect job for them. So it’s very much a focus of us. I know it’s a focus of the communities, and obviously where there’s a focus or there’s a problem, technology companies and start-ups are going to go and help with something that solves the problem.

John: Now we talked before, in the introduction, about your journey in your career, including having a family. Can you tell me about your family and about your decision to keep working, how your partner supported you in that process, and what that’s meant and what it has enabled?

Joanne: Sure. I have two daughters, one who’s almost eight and four and a half. They’re very much my number one priority. So while I work, that will always be number one. But for me, I was always going to be a working mum. For some reason, I never doubted that. When I met my husband, we spoke about it a lot, especially when I got pregnant; the decision around who’s going to stay at home, but it was a very short conversation. He just said, well, you’re driven, you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t often feel like work to you, so when I don’t really enjoy my job, I’m not that driven, you earn more than me – this is a bit of a no-brainer really! So then it just came down to how long do I take off? For example, with my first, I took nine months off, he then took three months off and then he went back part-time. So it helped that he got paid. Again working in a company that had parental leave was great for both of us. And he’s an amazing dad. He’s somebody who loves being with his kids. He still needs some form of adult interaction. But we’re very much the Yin and the Yang. I’m the extrovert driven one, he’s the more introverted – give him some sport and he’s a happy man. So we found a balance. It’s not necessarily been easy and certainly there’s a lot of stigma that comes attached to that. I’m a very achievement-driven person and when I was at home, I was driving myself crazy. Just for me, at that point in time, working is what I do best and I’m definitely a better mother when I work.

John: And you’ve blogged about this.

Joanne: I have. Because I get so many questions, I’ve had people come up to me in conferences and say, ‘oh, is your husband a stay-at-home dad? I’ve heard about people like you in books, what’s it really like?’ And guys come up and say, ‘oh God, your husband is a brave man, I would never do that!’ A lot of judgement in terms of my husband has been asked, ‘how does it feel to be out-earned by a woman?’ Or ‘how does it feel that you don’t support your family?’ Very outdated 1950s housewife kind of judgement. Thankfully we’ve both got thick skin. We don’t take it personally and we know that family balance is about whatever works best for your family. And our family is happier this way. As long as you have a happy family, that’s all that matters. Whatever combination, both part-time, both full-time, whatever you want to do, this is what works for us.

John: In our business now, we’re starting to work with companies to help them uncover, if you like, their intrinsic values, their purpose either before or beyond profit. What we’ve started to tease out with you here is, on a personal level, some of your values. I imagine that’s a very important factor in terms of candidates and indeed the companies they want to work for, and perhaps even in Hudson itself. So c an you talk to me a bit about how you go about finding and aligning the values of a business with the values of the people who might want to work with them?

Joanne: It’s certainly something that a lot more companies are placing more importance on. I mean there’s lots of data on the old adage ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. So cultural fit is becoming increasingly important. It’s always been important, but I think people are now realising we need to shift away from technical expertise or degrees and move more onto cultural fit and the motivations that people can bring into a job. We’ve done research that says people’s motivations are certainly a better indicator of whether they’re going to be successful in their job, than their experience. But that’s definitely something that we need to work on. Me from a personal perspective, I’m very driven by coming around in terms of trying to find out what your purpose is. I think for a lot of people, that’s something that they’re on a journey on personally. Certainly for me, I’m trying to work out what is my competitive advantage, what makes me hum beyond the dollars. Certainly for me, it’s been about change. I like driving change and that’s really a lot of what customer experience is. It’s driving change for the better, and that’s something where I’ve found a passion and an interest, as well as an interest in the customer. So that’s certainly something that’s been of value for me. And I think once you start to uncover what drives you and what your purpose is, it becomes easier to work out what’s the next best decision, either on a personal or a professional level.

John: Now thinking about really memorable customer experiences, whether you were involved in it or not, I just wonder if you could bring to the fore, something that you’ve seen or something you’ve been involved in that was just an amazing, memorable customer experience, the Holy Grail of what you’d love to see in the world?

Joanne: I’ve probably had more negative lately than positive. I’ve just connected to NBN, which is just a whole other level negative. But a positive one recently, I often come back to hotels. So I had a night at the Intercontinental in Sydney. They have got it down to a tee. So we walked up to reception. I was very curious to see how they do it. These days, often those large hotel groups are put up in lights as examples. They’re not quite a Ritz-Carlton, but they’re up there. The seamless check-in experience, we get to the room, we had been upgraded and then we got access to the club. Whether it was just the joys of sitting on the 33rd floor overlooking Sydney Harbour with a champagne in hand, that may have leant me towards a positive experience! But they’d snuck into the room and put a little envelope and they’d turned the bed down. They make it effortless and it’s very much the definition of frictionless. And we just checked out and they said, ‘thank you very much, hope you had a lovely day, would you like onward travel?’ And it was the same for everybody around us. So I think hotels, obviously they’ve got the volume and they’ve got the dollars. It could be a disaster, but they do it really, really well and going there was a great reminder of that.

John: I’m super pleased you mentioned them. We’ve got a small role that we play in the digital experience for their customers. So, that’s great.

Joanne: Ah, there we go.

John: So if we think now about the future, what do you see unfolding in the next few years in terms of customer experience? Looking at the trends and thinking about where we are today, thinking about the journey that we’ve come on from marketing through to interactivity and not being able to push and tell people what to do, what do you think the future holds?

Joanne: I think the future is really bright for CX. I think it’s only going to grow in terms of importance within companies. I think a lot of companies are still a bit nervous about ‘do I invest in this, does it have ROI, I’m not quite sure where the benefit is’. But everyone is talking about it, it’s in the HBR, it’s everywhere; maybe I need to do something about it. So I think a lot of companies would probably say they’ve been doing customer experience, to an extent. But whether or not it’s a holistic, coordinated effort across all the different silos I guess is another question. I think it will mature. You only have to see what the US are doing in terms of our opportunity to, rather than thinking of ourselves as laggards, can we leapfrog and not make the same mistakes other markets have? So how do we increase our discipline, how do we use data, and importantly, how do we show ROI? Because customer experience is at the risk of being how some marketing has become and sometimes how HR can be – very fluffy, warm and fuzzy stuff that the CFO says I’ve got this proposal which has X return, or I have this waffly, fluffy thing that looks lovely, but where am I going to invest? So I think as a profession, we need to mature, we need to work out how to demonstrate ROI and use the language of the business to drive our initiatives forward.

John: Jo, thanks for joining us today.

Joanne: Thank you very much.