Ahead of our KITP event in July, we sat down with one of our speakers: Alex Hunter, Former Head of Online at Virgin Group.
For those who don’t know Alex, let us tell you a bit about his professional background.
Alex is probably best known for his work as the Global Head of Online for the Virgin Group, overseeing the whole of Virgin brand’s global digital strategy, including Sir Richard Branson’s personal digital strategy.
But his professional journey didn’t stop there. From establishing innovative tech companies to working with the Prince of Wales’ Rainforest Trust to kickstart their digital marketing, Alex kept himself busy even after leaving Virgin.
Most recently, Alex started a multiple award-winning online travel show, called Attaché. Attaché is aimed at showing frequent travellers all they need to know before visiting a city on company business.
All of this experience puts Alex in a position to provide a unique angle on the development and future of digital marketing and customer experience.
So, of course, that’s what we also asked him about.
1. There’s a lot of buzz around customer experience these days. Do you think there’s a general understanding of what customer experience actually entails or do you feel that the marketing industry still has a long way to go?
All of us are customers in our “normal” lives, every single one of us. We know what we like, what frustrates us, how we expect to be treated, etc by the brands that we buy from day in and day out. We have a pretty clear view of what makes for good customer experience…we just might not call it that. But I think too often in our professional lives we forget to take the proverbial lab coat off and experience our own product or service as a customer. It sounds so simple but that change of perspective can be really rather revolutionary and equip us with a true understanding of what “great customer experience” means for our own product.
2. What can marketers do to move from focus on data, CPCs, and number of views to a truly customer-centric approach?
Over the past decade we have, for the most part, focused on optimisation. Of operation, of transaction. And that’s fine, that’s good – if we can get our products and services to our customers faster, with higher quality, and for lower cost then everyone wins. But I fear that while we’ve been so focused on transaction, we’ve lost sight of the relationship we have with our customers.
We’ve commoditised them and de-humanised them, seeing them only as a metric. The irony is that now more than ever people crave and demand a human-to-human customer experience. We must remember that behind every click and every call is a human being and we expect to be treated as such. No technology can replace that.
3. What role does technology play in making marketing more human, if any?
It’s very easy to be dazzled by the “shiny” of digital and tech, wanting to implement every new platform that is made available to us. But we have to remember that digital and tech are tools, they’re means to an end.
We have to constantly ask ourselves “what are we trying to do? why, as a company, do we exist? what promise are we making to our customers?” Our digital strategy should form the backbone of HOW we deliver on that promise to our customers. The tools we choose, the platforms we depend on should be implemented to help us fulfil our raison d’être. They should allow us to understand our customers and their needs, communicate with them on an individual, conversational level, and provide them with product and service that makes us who we are as a brand in the fastest and most efficient way possible. A good digital strategy allows us to unlock great experiences for our customers no matter who they are or what they want, whether they’re first time customers or long-time advocates.
4. What would be the one thing you wish marketers did differently.
Stop talking, start listening. And that’s not a reference to “conversational marketing”. I really mean we should shut up for a second and listen – not just to what’s being said but what’s being implied by our customers. We can learn so much if we take the time to listen to feedback, chatter, ideas, and asides – and then do something with that information. As marketers we love the sound of our own voices but sometimes we forget that the true value comes from what’s being said not what we’re saying.
5. Is there a book, a talk, or a person who inspires you in both professional and personal life?
I appreciate Anthony Bourdain’s frankness when he evaluates his professional and personal choices, especially in his book “Medium Raw”. Never easy to admit that perhaps you were doing something on principle rather than weighing up the pros and cons and acting accordingly.
And of course, if you want to hear him speak, then sign up below for KITP on 5th July 2018.