In the 21st century, brand is what customers say about you
Net Promoter Score added to topline KPI for all staff
AS the head of marketing services at Maxis, Sulin Lau (pic above) sits on one of the largest corporate marketing budgets in Malaysia. It is also a budget that has, over the past few years, shifted its spending increasingly into the digital space.
While Lau will not share any specific data, she says that Maxis has allocated a smaller A&P (advertising and promotions) budget – by the “low double digits” – in 2015 over last year.
A sign of cost cutting, one may presume. But she explains that this is simply because “Maxis has gotten much more efficient in how we spend it.”
That statement has its roots in the fact that digital spending is cheaper than traditional forms of A&P such as TV, radio and print.
No surprise then when Lau points out that despite the lower 2015 budget, digital spend will increase. This already comes on the back of Maxis having more than doubled its digital ad spend over the past two years, to becoming among the largest digital advertisers in Malaysia.
What is interesting with Maxis is that its digital spend goes beyond being just an increasingly important tactical tool. It has become part of the strategy to drive alignment in the organisation around delivering ‘world-class value’ to its customers.
With consumers increasingly shifting leisure and work time from the physical world to the digital, Maxis has instilled ‘Customer Experience’ as a central tenet of its existence. This intensifies the role of digital as a two-way channel that becomes a mirror for Maxis to measure how it is doing on this score.
Which is why a tool called Net Promoter Score (NPS) is something everyone at Maxis, from the CEO (chief executive officer) down, are keenly aware of, as it has been included as one of their topline KPIs (key performance indicators).
NPS is based on the fundamental perspective that every company's customers can be divided into three categories: Promoters, Passives, and Detractors.
Management consultancy Bain & Co, in its analysis, has found that sustained value creators – companies that achieve long-term profitable growth – have NPS two times higher than the average company.
Lau says NPS is able to inform a company of whether its customers will recommend it to friends and family, based on a score of 8 to 10. A score of 6 and below indicates they are detractors.
The yardstick is high but “that is the best measure, at least we think so, of customer experience,” she says.
And while brand proponents talk about brand experience, and how customer service and A&P work to reinforce a company’s brand experience, Lau says that for Maxis, “Philosophically, what we believe a brand should be in the 21st century is not what you broadcast at your customers via ads – but what your customers say about you.”
“We take the view that digital is the lead media for brand building, with social probably its most powerful element,” she adds.
This circles back to Lau’s earlier point about customer experience as the defining outcome that Maxis is aiming for.
Since customers will only talk about a brand through their experience with it, and with social becoming the primary means for these conversations today, Maxis has invested in a stronger set of social listening tools from one of the leading vendors in the world.
These tools now give Maxis a different way of looking at its customers and how quickly it can react to things that can directly impact their experience.
“Today, with this stronger set of listening tools, we can almost pinpoint a hotspot of network activity [as when there is a spike in chatter about Maxis] and respond,” she says.
This is done by setting an alert to be triggered when there is an unusual spike in conversations, say around its network.
“This allows us a honesty check on how our network is doing,” she adds.
It also helps the entire organisation become more attuned to customer needs. For instance, the network team in Maxis now has a customer KPI and not just a throughput KPI, the traditional way for how engineers will defend their network quality.
This has made a huge difference as it is the customer’s experience with the Maxis network that defines whether the network quality is good.
And as everyone knows, a happy customer is a quiet one. An unhappy customer is the noisy one, and today, that noise can easily get amplified on social media platforms.
Maxis had a taste of this last November when its unique idea of launching the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus involving staff personally delivering the phones to its customers backfired after logistics issues prevented many from getting their devices despite the company’s promise.
Naturally, a number took to social media, with some resorting to crude language, to express their displeasure.
Reflecting on the episode and its subsequent aftermath, Lau quips how “things can punch you in the face” with even the best laid out plan.
“It was a super simple idea – customers get the iPhone hand-delivered by Maxis staff anywhere you are, home, cinema, mamak (hawker) stall – at the stroke of midnight [on Nov 1, 2014],” she says.
But as a result of the cited logistics issues, a fair number did not get their eagerly awaited phones, which resulted in many angry customers.
“It was a hard lesson but it sped up a lot of things we were supposed to do anyway,” she says.
One of them was with stock visibility at its stores. “Before, we had no real-time stock visibility. But post-iPhone 6 launch, this got fast tracked and from February this year, Maxis can tell customers exactly which phone model, colour and size was in stock, in which store.
“We are the only telco able to do this,” she proudly declares.
“Another aspect that was improved was our online store experience. It was just not good enough, and we overhauled it, starting from the point of view of the customer journey,” she adds.
Looking back at the experience, Lau reflects, “In a way it is gratifying – we all make mistakes, but there’s then the opportunity to trigger corporate willpower to change things.”
While it is likely that the company would have taken post-remedial action even without its customers publicly expressing anger and displeasure, the fact that they took to social media where their expressions were amplified must have certainly accelerated Maxis’ reaction to the experience.
No surprise then that for Maxis, social is the most powerful element for a brand in the 21st century.
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