Coen Olde Olthof is senior vice president at Dutch telco KPN. A former KPMG analyst, he worked in sales, marketing and product development before taking on a new role last September to accelerate the company’s use of digital. He spoke to CMO.com recently.
CMO.com: How the company was structured around digital before your role was created?
COO: We had a number of very big silos like most telcos do, or did. We had a business market silo, we had a residential silo, and we had a mobile market silo. Then we had a number of online activities, especially online sales, within the individual units and some centrally. We were marginally combining some of these activities, but it was still very much segment-driven. The main area where we were, or had to cooperate, was on the website.
CMO.com: So what steps have you taken?
COO: The first thing I did was to look at the companies at the frontier to see what they are doing. Then I looked at technology providers, to see what they’re developing and what the best practices are. I also looked at the structures of pure online organizations, and I combined this with a very simple business approach, aligning it with what it is we’re trying to achieve as a telco company, and I divided the initiative into three layers.
The first is that we need to get our basics better developed. That can be very simple things like how we operate the site, how we develop it, and the technology that we use.
The second revolves around how we can start to use our online channel to improve customer service around the services we are already delivering or will be delivering in the near future.
And layer three is how we can leverage digital as our primary starting point and think about reinventing existing services, and at the same time try to start figuring out what services we can build on top of our existing products to add more value to our customers.
So with these three layers I drafted a plan together with the business lines, and made sure this plan fitted on one page. Then we took the digital activities out of those business lines and central staff and put them all together in a logical and physical place.
In the second phase we started to look at how we could use online much more as the primary channel for customer service, and not only on our own sites, but to intensify our cooperation with Google, Youtube and Facebook for example to provide interactive “how to” videos for end-users, to allow them talk to each other and provide each other with advice and solutions, and to link it to an internal social media platform that replaced our intranet.
CMO.com: Can you give an example?
COO: We used to have a list of frequently asked questions. Over the year these are always the same, but if we were to change a TV channel in one of our packages because it was no longer available, then on that day and for the week afterwards, a lot of people call to ask where the channel is. And obviously this never pops up in the frequently asked questions list online because over the year it’s not valid. So we started to link the call centres much more into our online environment. We make lists of the day, and we see what is the most frequently asked question of that moment. This way people find their top five questions online, very simple but this has moves calls away from the call centre.
In the third phase we’re now inviting external parties and customers to co-create new services. That obviously takes a bit longer but we very much take the customer journey perspective, asking “what will this do for our customer?” We started to make small, simple changes that go towards the greater goal.
CMO.com: How do you get over the problem of people operating in traditional channels feeling that digital channels might be taking sales away from them?
COO: There are a number of solutions to that. If you take a pragmatic one, you select a coalition of the willing. In every domain there are people who are willing to take these steps without raising a passive/aggressive mindset, and there are always people who are enthusiastic about the possibilities of online, and I try to find those people. The second part is that the organization has communicated to do this, so people know that it is relevant and important, that we have to find a way to get it across. The third thing is that I try to make those changes very small. For example: we now have a link to out “how to” video pages in the cashiers’ system in all our shops. It saves them time so they are happy and start to cooperate and come with other suggestions. As a next step, based on their input we made sure the screens in the shops look exactly the same as online. People started online and then went into the shops to have a different experience. We took the customer journey as a guiding principle and aligned the two worlds. This helps both the shops as well as the online environment.
I don’t believe in big changes because people are stuck in their path. If you show small successes then slowly people become much more enthusiastic, and you see now that the projects that we started with three people have grown organically. There are now some that have nine or 12 people working on them, and it’s something that I never asked them to do. When you show small results, people get to feel good, fairly quickly and this gives energy and then you get to a stage where people like to be involved.
CMO.com: How are you approaching the question of the skills needed in this transformation, in terms of recruitment and training?
COO: I’ve started to work with our chief HR officer on how we should change the way we look at this. One of the interesting things I’ve realised is that we’re currently looking for, let’s say, community managers. Five years ago no-one had a clue that they’d be doing that. So we have to start looking for people who we don’t even know we have to start looking for, and this requires a certain understanding of what’s happening instead of just working with standard profiles. That requires adaptability, ability to change, learning capacity. There are a whole load of HR and business components that come into play.
CMO.com: Facebook like to say that the journey is 1% done. How would you rate your progress so far?
COO: When you see the first cars, they look like carriages, but without the horses. This is where we are in the online environment. In terms of my company, I think we’re maybe 5% or 10%, but I think these are very important percentages. The first 15 percent is very hard, but then you come to your tipping point. If people see something working somewhere in the organisation that gives a better customer experience, costs less, creates revenue and makes their life and job easier, then they start to want to get involved. The biggest traction I get comes from the smallest things I try to do.I think we’re at 8%, but when we’re at 20% then you’ll see the rest of the journey happen much more quickly.