GET TO KNOW A CMO
Vice President of Digital Growth and Acquisition for T-Mobile
Peter Francis is Vice President of Digital Growth and Acquisition at T-Mobile, where he is responsible for online discovery, marketing and direct sales, generating more than $1 billion in revenue for T-Mobile through eCommerce and telesales, served by a global team of 1,200 amazing digital marketers and digital front-line staff. He joined T-Mobile from Amazon.com, where he led ecommerce for the Kindle device category and worldwide Kindle market planning. In a former life, Francis has been a systems consultant, a control systems engineer and a faculty member at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He has a PhD in decision sciences from Northwestern University.
What consumer trends are currently shaping your omni-channel strategy?
We re-launched our digital experience in the fourth quarter of 2016, and as we looked at the biggest consumer and technical trends impacting our strategy, we learned that about 70 percent of our traffic is now coming from mobile sources, so the first step for us is learning to participate in the mobile Internet space, not just the digital space, and that’s a really important distinction. When people are on a small screen, you don't have their undivided attention. They're not sitting in front of a giant PC or locked away in their home offices. They're out in the world—they may be at a bus stop or in a competitor’s store, researching us while looking at other offerings at the same time.
With more than 200 million pieces of content being created every day, consumers are saturated with content that has little relevance to them. We view personalization of content as the digital analog to the thoughtful curation of information and products in a physical store. We work hard to personalize content for customers and visitors so that they are not inundated with irrelevant content when they visit our digital properties.
The last trend that's shaping the way that we think about T-Mobile, both strategically and structurally, is what we call Human Digital. Product purchase path research reveals that the complexity and importance of the considered products drives channel choice. When consumers are looking to make decisions about critical and complex products (like wireless), they often want to speak to an expert for advice and human reassurance.
What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to creating seamless experiences for customers across platforms in a more individualized and personalized way?
There are variable costs involved in making people available in stores, call centers, on chat features and on social media. In addition, human operations don't always deliver against the customer’s need for personalized response or care. Third, and our biggest problem, is availability. Human beings aren't available in microseconds as web pages are. On top of that, the average human attention span has gone from about 12 seconds to 8 seconds. If I can't provide great human connections at scale or set the right paradigm where customers are willing to wait for the right level of service, then that leads to inconsistent experiences and mixed levels of satisfaction.
How are you working to overcome some of the challenges of digital when it comes to creating exceptional customer experiences?
Digital is really bad at conveying emotion, and we're working on that part. It also falls short when it comes to learned behavior versus coded behavior, which inhibits the ability to create a magical customer experience. This is also something we’re working on when it comes to our digital presence because I can’t tell you the last time that I had an emotional response to a website.
We also haven't been able to create moments of delight spontaneously, as much as we'd like to. A great example of doing this recently involved the CEO for Alaska Airlines, who stood outside of a plane that was delayed overnight. He apologized to people who were coming off the plane and bought them lunch. That was a magical customer experience, and while the cost of doing this was small, the surprise factor went a long way in showing customers that the company was willing to go above and beyond to keep them happy. This type of experience is harder to create and tends to be a creative problem, so we're still looking for ways to execute surprisingly great experiences and innovations quickly.
Coded versus learned behavior is the next thing that we're working on. We’re trying to determine how we can continuously learn what customers are doing on the website and then respond by changing the way that the website operates because human behavior isn't static. We don't want to compare ourselves against a category; we want to compare ourselves against culture, and that needs to change in a paradigm of weeks, not months and years.
How well do you think marketers are doing when it comes to keeping pace with increasing customer demands for more personalized engagements across touchpoints and channels?
What's interesting is that, for too long, digital marketers have thought of the product as the platform. There is a generation of digital marketers like me who grew up when technology was a novelty, but Mark Weiser has a great quote that says, "The most profound technologies are the ones that disappear, that become part of the fabric of everyday life." We have a generation of digital marketers who are now executives and who grew up with that technology. For them, it hasn't quite disappeared into the fabric of everyday life, but millennials and centennials have always grown up with the Internet. For them, the Internet is not a product, nor is e-commerce.
It's important to understand that just having a website and a beautiful digital experience isn't sufficient. You have to focus on the service that you're providing and what the true customer need is. If you take away the technology and think about what you would say to a customer if you were face to face, you would tell them what they needed to know, and you would pause and try to listen. That's what some of the best customer service representatives have been trained to do all of their lives, and somehow, we've lost that notion on digital.
When it comes to Human Digital, what's important for us is that user interfaces are informed by and supported by real human beings, where needed, but most importantly, they are focused on the customer. We are also working on investing heavily in AI to do machine learning and AI personalization to enable better, more relevant experiences.
What drives your decisions when it comes to prioritizing areas of transformation, and what leadership and stakeholders are involved?
If I put my CIO hat on, our core product is mobile networks and the ability to bill against those mobile networks. It is vitally important to reinvent and bring the core product up to modern standards, so scale starts to become an issue. We have grown from approximately 30 million consumers to 70 million consumers, so if you're not investing in your core product, you're failing. You might not fail tomorrow, but you will fail three years from now if you want to continue to grow. You have to look at your infrastructure and decide what is core and critical to your ongoing business and make changes as needed.
In terms of priority, we fixed our billing system because that tends to be a slower, more difficult transformation to undertake, and it's critical for T-Mobile that we make those investments now so that we're prepared to continue to grow at double-digit rates for the conceivable future.
Support for this transformation comes from across the C-suite. We're particularly lucky at T-Mobile to have an executive leadership team that's focused on solving customer problems. Our CEO personally spends a lot of time resolving customer issues, and as he does so, he realizes that there are significant issues in terms of our front line's ability to resolve problems because of older software that happens to be on the enterprise stack, so our whole executive leadership team is really driving businesses in transformation.
What is the ideal customer experience that you're working toward, and what needs to be done to continue to deliver on that promise?
The important distinctions for us are the human connections that we value with our customers. We sell them a product that is critical for them to live their digital lives, and we want it to be as seamless and as transparent as possible. Our vision for digital sales and service is to provide an experience that makes room in our customers' lives for them to focus on the things that they care about. If a customer comes to one of our agents with a question, but the agent’s computer gives them a response that doesn't make sense, then we need to give the agent the ability to override that and serve the customer in a manner that best works for their needs. We're continuing to invest in technologies that make the lives of our front line easier, and we're making investments on the adtech and martech side to drive better personalization on the website because it's a manifestation of our ability to respect a customer that shows up in our digital space. At the end of the day, we don’t want to invest in technology for its own sake. We want to make a real and meaningful difference to our customers.