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Next best action marketing interview: Annette Mitchell, Orange

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13th Jun 2008
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Architect of O2's much lauded next best action (NBA) marketing strategy and now responsible for implementing it at Orange, few people have as much practical knowledge of rolling out NBA as Annette Mitchell. In this interview, Mitchell discusses the challenges she has faced in getting NBA recognised as a formidable marketing method - and shares tips on how to roll-out a successful next best action marketing strategy.

Mobile phone

By Verity Gough, staff writer

Next best action (NBA) marketing has gradually carved out a reputation for itself in recent years. Partly this is because the software solutions have improved; but partly also because consumer cynicism has grown and traditional outbound marketing has looked increasingly ineffective.

Telcos in particular have found that they are ideally placed to implement NBA solutions in their inbound call centres. O2 was one of the first organisations to use NBA marketing after bringing in Annette Mitchell as head of inbound marketing. Ever keen to end the reliance on outbound calls as a means to promote sales, Mitchell has now moved over to rival telco Orange as director of customer experience, where she has become a leading light in the promotion and implementation of NBA.

Yet despite her experience of and enthusiasm for NBA, she has faced a number of challenges in her efforts to get it recognised as a formidable marketing method. For a start, when she first introduced the NBA to O2, the concept was largely unproven and didn’t fit in with the company’s business priorities. However, after the completion of the first pilot the results began to speak for themselves.

"What customers actually want is for you to understand their needs when they come into contact with you, and for you to be able to market to them at that point in time is very powerful."

Annette Mitchell, director of customer experience, Orange

“Call centres are traditionally managed as cost centres, not as profit centres, and the metrics that a cost centre is managed through include average handling time and percentage of calls answered,” she explains. “We had to convince them that it was worth allowing agents using NBA to run over their average handling time targets and show them that the incremental financial benefit of doing this was significant.”

And convince them she did. Mitchell’s enthusiasm for NBA has seen it become commonplace in many of Orange’s inbound call centres, implementing the same Chordiant software that Mitchell had installed at 02. This technology, of course, has been around for a while now - so why have organisations been so slow in implementing it? Mitchell puts it down to a realisation that customers are juggling busy lives and simply don’t want to be interrupted in their downtime, meaning retailers are having to consider how to make their marketing more customer-centric.

“You’ve got landlines, broadband, mobile, all sorts of things and you really have to think about what information people want while they are interacting with you,” she explains. “People tend to class marketing as something you do to the customer, whereas I think what customers actually want is for you to understand their needs when they come into contact with you, and for you to be able to market to them at that point in time - that’s much more powerful.”

The training game

As with all aspects of effective marketing, ensuring the staff are up to the job is essential. In fact, Mitchell stresses this point, adding that around 70% of the delivery has been in change management, introducing new behavioural models and customer experience modules aimed at helping agents to understand why the products they are being prompted to tell customers about are actually relevant to them.

"Our strategy is that if it’s positioned in the right kind of way, and you’ve created a proposition that is really relevant, then, in my mind, you are not creating a sales opportunity but added value for the customer."

Annette Mitchell, director of customer experience, Orange

“We offer additional training in the different products and services, as well as training to help staff understand why our customer strategies have pushed them up to the top of the list on the screen in front of them and then helping them to identify the right point in the conversation to introduce it,” she explains.

She emphasises that training and offering incentives are the key factors in engaging staff. “You get what you measure people by, and what you pay people for,” she says. “If you pay them to manage calls to an average handling time, then that’s what they will do. If you pay them to manage the call and add value through x, y and z, then that’s what they will do. But if you try to get them to change without training it’s going to be very difficult.”

She believes the right approach to the implementation of NBA is crucial to its success. Rather than seeing NBA as a cross-sell/up-sell tool, Mitchell emphasises the importance of consistency. “It’s about managing and delivering consistent value and service at every touch point. If you work on that principle, everybody has to have access to the same advice for the customer because it has to be consistent through all channels.”

“Our strategy is that if it’s positioned in the right kind of way, and you’ve created a proposition that is really relevant, then, in my mind, you are not creating a sales opportunity but added value for the customer,” she says.

Putting the customer in the middle

To the uninitiated, the concept of NBA is quite hard to understand. A good way of describing it is to draw comparisons with Amazon’s recommendations tool which makes decisions about a person’s interests on the purchases they make. But NBA takes this a step further.

"To have the opportunity to offer a relevant, personalised service to customers is a really big deal."

Annette Mitchell, director of customer experience, Orange

“If you are just looking at a product there is not a lot you can tell other than there are similar products to it, but customer data in the mobile world is very rich. What we are trying to do is to take some of the employee engagement pieces from companies with outstanding customer service records, some of the Amazon ‘relevant’ pieces, put the customer in the middle, and use all the data to make that interaction as relevant as possible.”

So what about the effect on the customer relationship? It’s still relatively early days for NBA, so market research is a little thin on the ground. “We have seen a massive uplift in conversion rates compared to outbound,” enthuses Mitchell. “And we have had good feedback from our agents saying that they feel it’s the right thing to do with customers, that they think the training they are getting is really good, so it’s looking very positive,” she says.

So is NBA set to be a key competitive differentiator in the telco sector? Mitchell thinks so. “People's needs and expectations have changed so dramatically and products are lot easier to copy now. In fact, companies can get new products into the market faster than ever before, so to have the opportunity to offer a relevant, personalised service to customers is a really big deal. If any company can meet that challenge, it won’t just be a differentiator in the telco market, it will set them apart in the wider market.”

With the shift from CRM to CEM, it is evident that customers expect a little bit if extra effort on the part of the retailer. The easy sell is no longer an option - particularly if you want to keep your customers. “It’s not an acquisition market any more it’s a retention market,” concludes Mitchell. “People are talking about a recession and in those type of circumstances, your customer is key, so yes, I think it’s definitely the way forward.” Viva la revolution!

Expert advice: implementing NBA

  • Make sure whatever you do is customer driven from the targets you set to the data that drives the advice

  • Make sure it’s relevant: don’t try to sell people something they don’t want

  • It’s not all about product marketing - get the best in-class solutions that can help you to meet the new needs of the customer

  • Make sure you get the right mix of resources to both implement and manage

  • Remember, it’s not an IT project, it’s a change management project supported by best-in-class solutions

  • Don’t try to perfect everything you do – try to get results quickly to prove the benefits to the business with you’ve got and then start to grow.

  • Have a big vision but don’t try and deliver the whole thing all at once

    Source: Annette Mitchell


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