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In the eyes of potential customers, Ziggo is the winner of the WUA online orientation study of a fixed line and broadband package, early this year (publication in Dutch). Also, Vodafone ranked number one in the sim only research WUA performed in the Dutch telecom market in July (publication in Dutch). In this interview, we talk to Katja Sizova, Director Digital at VodafoneZiggo. An extensive talk about the pace of digital transformation and innovation, the almost unlimited digital possibilities out there (that taste like candy), Big Data, AI, chatbots and about creating the ultimate engaging customer experience.

Katja Sizova congratulations on winning both this WUA studies in the Dutch telecom market. How important is it for you to be the best in the digital arena? What role does having a winning mentality play in this?

“It’s obviously fantastic to be the winner, and to see how all efforts of the team are recognised. I’m not one hundred percent sure if it’s really about the winning mentality as a desire to win, or that winning this study is more due to our strong focus on key Digital ingredients.

“Focus on digital is a big  ambition within many companies. And I am very proud to see digital becoming one of the big pillars of the VodafoneZiggo joint venture. That gives a lot of empowerment to the team, within the department, but also broader within the overall organisation.”

“Why is Digital important? Well, these days we all live in the digital world. Most our interactions are via digital channels. Just imagine yourself for a day offline! It sounds like a nightmare for probably most people around us. So, understanding how important digital is for our customers allows us to make a difference and puts us in a winning place.”

What is your approach, what is going so well? What could other people with digital responsibilities learn from your approach?

“Many studies (e.g. research done by Harvard Business Review) have found out that if you manage to build up a connection, an engaging relationship with a customer, you can leverage that to an absolutely phenomenal degree. It increases loyalty, and if customers feel engaged with you, they can forgive you a mistake here and there because they really feel that you bring something special to them. So how do you translate this feeling of connection and something special into digital?

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“This is one of our focus points in both mobile and fixed sides of the business. We constantly ask ourselves: How can we bring a unique and special experience and how can we build up that emotional engagement in digital? That I think helps us to make choices and prioritise certain things over others. What kind of elements are needed to ‘design for emotion’? How do we get to know and validate  the need of the customers? We have to be constantly alert! And to make sure that the connection is there, and that we stay very closely aligned and responsive to what is important  to  the customers.”

From a consumer perspective, there shouldn’t be a difference between service and sales (anymore). To what extent are you able to break through silos at VodafoneZiggo. What steps are you taking to make this happen?

“What we notice is that people really couldn’t care less: Is it sales, is it service? It just needs to work and be easy for them. An example: if you travel abroad, how to keep your mobile phone costs under control? A year ago that was still a big theme. But now, with our offerings, it’s a much smoother experience. So, imagine you land in a different country: all you want is to stay online and continue your usual activities, e.g. keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues, stay up to date on the latest news.  And then, if you get a proactive message from your telecom provider saying: ‘By the way, you’ve used up your allowance, and watch out, you either start paying out of bundle, which may result in a high bill, or click here and we will prevent unexpected costs.’

“In a way, yes, this is sales but it’s relevant for you at this point in time and it makes your life easier. It’s driven by your service needs. So, to me, this is just one very simple example showing that service and sales are one blurred area. Thus….. this business reality requires a much broader engagement, not just from my digital department, it involves a lot of interactions with colleagues on the marketing side, colleagues who help with general communications, colleagues who design propositions to see where we can stand out, and where we can deliver the best possible experience….”

What is the role of customer research and customer focus in your daily work and in the teams you are responsible for?

“Customer insights and research are really embedded in the organisation, and our key instrument on a daily basis. Starting from high-level ideas, concepts, designs, all the way into operations. Customer feedback is everywhere. Without that feedback, we would have the feeling of driving in a car without a dashboard and without a steering wheel…”

In digital, what KPIs do you use? Which KPIs are most important for you to excel in digital?

“NPS (Net Promoter Score) is very important, it’s also a major KPI on the board level.  There are obviously many more granular measurements used to steer on a working level. Often we see a correlation among some of them though. For instance, we ask our customers “did you manage to achieve the goal of your visit to the site?”. This is tracked as a goal completion rate. Then, we also measure how many people have asked for assistance (e.g. via chat or voice call) after having tried things online. And generally speaking, there is a correlation across those three KPIs.“

“We know, too many KPIs are not helpful. You want to measure many things but in terms of ‘steering’ you only need to focus on a couple. We are constantly looking at the most representative set of KPIs. It’s all about: how do we make sure we really understand what the customer is saying. Our KPIs need to be a reflection of how people feel and how they experience our end-to-end service.”

What are your biggest digital challenges for 2017?

“I think my biggest digital challenge is this: how to keep the pace of innovation and the pace of change in line with how quickly the organisation can move? There are so many fantastic developments that are happening out there, and I would really want to jump on them and do them all tomorrow….

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“I think if you’re working in the digital business you have to be impatient. In the internet world, the pace of development and innovation is absolutely phenomenal. The level of customer experience a lot of start-ups are delivering, is shaping expectations of consumers towards any type of technology-oriented company.  We have to move at the lightning speed of the digital natives. And I see that many companies have a different pace of development throughout the organisation.

“At VodafoneZiggo, we are historically very good at providing reliable services and delivering quality people can trust. In many cases even lives of people depend on that. And that requires a certain DNA, certain characteristics, which don’t necessarily help you to be the fastest moving one, because you really need to think about the impact of every single action you take. How do we merge and blend those two together, I think it is an ongoing dilemma of many companies who are not digital natives.

“And…. it is a very exciting  challenge. How do we bring different, complementary types of skills together and leverage all possibilities out there? And the VodafoneZiggo joint venture brings even more opportunities! Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store. There are so many things that are exciting and where we can make a real difference. We can make life better, cooler, and build up on that connection we bring to people, not only in a sense of technology but as an emotional connection with what matters in their lives. To get there, we need to stay focused, sensitive and listen to what customers need and what they find important!”

What digital innovations are you currently working on, and what developments are on your roadmap?

“In April 2017 we introduced a number of what we call ‘converged benefits’ to our customers. It is the very first step to show people that we appreciate them as loyal customers of both of our brands. So far, we have received a lot of positive feedback: customers see the value! But there are definitely steps needed in terms of making the digital experience smoother and better. How can we make your life easier if you are a customer of both brands?

“Furthermore, we experiment with AI and chat-bots to help people with their basic service questions, e.g. in the mobile service area. To you, this feels like a dialogue you are having. Someone or something guides you through a number of steps. In the end you feel you have had a natural and simple chat. And at the back of it, it’s all about the data we can use to help you. Fantastic to see very positive customer feedback around this!”

What do you think will be The Next Big Thing in digital in your market?

“Knowing your customer very  well has become a general expectation. This is not a future trend. Whatever we do needs to be relevant, needs to be spot on, needs to be important at that point in time. Otherwise customers feel more irritated than anything else.

“How do we translate all those latest technology developments to something that makes you feel special and helps you? Not just an AI robot that goes through the script and has a programme to share with you. This requires special design skills and understanding of human psychology, on how people interact with systems but also with each other.

“The biggest shift I see in the coming years, is that the human emotional aspect is becoming critical for digital success. To have this emotional aspect working in digital requires data geniuses combined with storytellers, artists who can make an engaging experience out of it; creative designers, psychologists who understand how you think and the language you speak, combined with hard-core numbers. And last, but certainly not least, spot on technologists making it all work together. So, in the end, it’s the best (digital) people with the richest skills that create the best digital experience!”

“What really makes a difference is the level of engagement: how appealing is a brand (touchpoint) to you as a customer? In this world of all sorts of websites, apps and everything else screaming and grabbing your attention, you can say “oh, here I feel at ease, and it makes me smile.” Or it gives you that feeling as if someone has sent you a surprise bunch of air balloons.

What is your ultimate goal or dream you want to achieve in business?

“We have an unparalleled opportunity to make an impact on people lives. The possibilities are absolutely fascinating! Grabbing that opportunity and making the most of it is my biggest personal driver. Metaphorically speaking, as an ‘owner of a candy shop’: if no one can discover all the candies we’ve got, people just walk past. So, how to expose the richness of what we have got to everyone out there? We can really make lives not just easier, but much richer and happier, and we have got everything at our disposal to make that happen!”