We caught up with Verizon Consumer Group’s Executive Director of Sales Experience John Walker to discuss the telco’s transformation of…

We caught up with Verizon Consumer Group’s Executive Director of Sales Experience John Walker to discuss the telco’s transformation of its customer journey…

Communication technology companies exist in highly competitive and increasingly disruptive waters. With the technological landscape constantly shifting, and customer expectation following suit, the journey a company offers both its clients and its staff, has to be smart and agile across all channels of engagement and Verizon is always working to stay ahead of the curve on that front.

The largest wireless provider in the US, Verizon is a telecommunications giant with its 4G LTE network covering approximately 98% of the States. The company has transformed its customer journey, while boosting revenue in the process, in an omni-channel offering that has reshaped its sales strategy.  Verizon Consumer Group’s Executive Director of Sales Experience across those channels is John Walker and it’s his job to examine the shopping path and the process of shopping in a bid to provide a greater experience for both the customer and the sales team.

“We’re moving on,” Walker explains, “from having a channel-focused distribution strategy to a customer-journey focused strategy.  We’re flipping our model.  It’s a big change because we’ve operated by channel very successfully for years. We know that changing our operating model and building our distribution strategy around the customer is the right thing to do, because we’ve seen how customers engage with us.  The average sale takes around 9 days and involves 2-3 touch points, often times more.  We want to connect those interactions for our customers.”

Walker has been a part of Verizon since the start, beginning at Bell of Pennsylvania, before moving to Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems which later became a joint venture with Vodafone and Verizon (a subsidiary of Verizon Communications). His experience has played witness to dramatic changes across Verizon’s operations and offerings. His latest role is newly established, and directly addresses the ever-shifting digital landscape and the customer journey it can inspire.
During the fourth quarter of 2016, Verizon made a decision to adopt an omni-channel approach to its retail environment. Salesforce had been successfully adopted for its B2B offerings, and so it was seen as a suitable aid to the consumer customer. “We wanted to see what we could do for the consumer customer and how we could improve the experiences for retail efficiency in our (2,300 US) stores, to avoid cold calling customers, which was not ideal for our sales reps or customers. We had a practice of pulling sales reps off the floor when it was not very busy and have them call a list of prospects provided by our CRM team. One of the problems was that we didn’t have data about what was happening on those calls, how effective they were, or how a customer responded. It was a black hole. So, we wanted to solve both an operational and experiential problem,” he explains.

The Salesforce system was built around a holistic omni-channel experience that leveraged personalization by tying people together with use cases based on online shopping behavior. Verizon would see a large number of people start online, only to fail to finish the transaction. They wouldn’t buy. “So, we connected them with a person and an offer to help,” says Walker. “It was an opportunity to tie the digital experience together with a person and to build confidence in the online purchase.  An offer of assistance is a great way to connect a digital and physical shopping experience and a great means of personalization.  If that offer makes a customer more confident in their purchase, and our results have shown that it does, they’ll likely also purchase more, and our results show that too. We didn’t introduce a level of information about the customer or personalization to the reps that was creepy.  Customers have grown to expect a company to know what he or she is looking at on the company website.  That’s the level of information we share with our reps, nothing more, because we respect our customers’ privacy and at the same time want to meet their expectations that ‘Verizon remembers’ interactions they’ve had with Verizon systems and people.  If you take it too far, people can understandably get uncomfortable with it.”

The Salesforce system was chosen to provide a smoother transition for both customer and rep. “We kept our personalization at a level of ‘Here’s an individual, close to you, that can provide greater confidence to you in what you’re doing digitally or face to face.’ And you know, there are some customers, naturally, that said, ‘No thanks’ or wouldn’t respond. But for the rep, instead of getting a list of 250 people to cold call, he/she would receive a list of people who said they’d like to meet. I mean, that’s a dramatically different experience for that rep and for those customers. Because now when the customer comes into the store, instead of saying, ‘Hey, I need help,’ they’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m here to see Samantha because I got a text message from her that said, ‘Hey, Andrew, I saw you left some great things in your cart. I’m free at two o’clock on Thursday or any other time that’s convenient for you. Are you interested in some help?’ We don’t engage any employees until the customer responds. And then the rep would actually get that information and be anticipating the customer’s arrival.  Anytime you can connect a digital experience with a face-to-face experience in a way that makes that customer feel special, is a win. It’s a win for the customer and it’s a win for the business and it builds trust and ultimately drives sales.”

With large-scale digital transformations, it can be very easy to spend huge amounts of cash on unnecessary systems, software and the implementation thereof, and so expert consultancy is always a must. Verizon pulled Deloitte Digital in to help with the execution of the Salesforce system and to work with its IT teams in order to get the experience they needed. Although Verizon had experience of working closely with Salesforce there were still risks attached. “There can be a huge gap between what you imagined you could do and what you can effectively implement and execute against in a given timeframe,” Walker explains. “We were going to have to integrate with a lot of legacy systems, and despite having a truly world-class IT department we had virtually no experience integrating or configuring the modules of Salesforce needed for our consumer implementation.  With Deloitte’s expertise, we were able to get the platform up and running and into production in 12 to 15 weeks. It was remarkably fast, and we did that because we said, ‘Look, we can keep working this until it’s perfect and then launch it and find out whether or not our assumptions about customer and rep behavior are right or not.  Or we can get something into the hands of the people that are going to use it and have them guide us on that development going forward.’ So, it was very much an agile approach, and the decision to operate in this manner turned out to be critical to our success.”

Walker and his team are buoyed by the success of the new system and view it as one of the most successful multi-vendor projects Verizon has done. “We exceeded our business case considerably. One measure of success would be the fact that our close rate grew deep into double digits and the average sale was almost 20% more than the sales closed without our Salesforce.com solution.  Beating the business case was a really good step. Let’s face it, there are a lot of people in any business who propose solutions and build business estimations about the value they’re going to create. This one outperformed our business case considerably and that’s the most fun. And you know, having a strategy, executing against it and having success, at the scale that we were able to do it, is not something people often get an opportunity to do in their career. It was incredible. Just a tremendous team of people.”

Although Verizon’s operations and offerings are deeply rooted in harnessing new technological systems and innovations, it is still people driving those transformations. “People are everything. Look, you can have great processes and great technology, but if you don’t have great people willing to roll up their sleeves and just collaborate… That was one of the great things about this team. If you saw this team, working together with Deloitte, you wouldn’t know who worked for Verizon and who worked for Deloitte because it was just one team with a tremendous commitment. They consistently figured out how to get things done in a very tight timeframe with the intended results. We had people on the team that knew our internal systems and how they connected very, very well. They were critical to the implementation. Kathleen Casey, Cynthia O’Dell, Vince Serrano and our field operations leads all played significant roles on the team in our success. Kathleen was our chief innovator, our idea engine, and Cynthia and Vince both brought Salesforce and technical implementation skills that helped us get through some difficult periods. And the folks that Julie Miller, our Deloitte partner brought to the table like Kris Tzankov, Matt Fisher and others, understood Salesforce and what it could do, and understood integration in a way that was special.”

Verizon’s relationship with Deloitte is ongoing and for good reason. “They just keep adding value for our business,” says Walker rather matter-of-factly. “My expectation would be that we continue to find ways to work with Deloitte because of that. The intent and strategy for the implementation of Salesforce was for them to get us off the ground and on our feet and for us to eventually take over. And we’re working towards that. But again, they’re still involved because they’re continually accelerating our progress. They bring speed, not just to platform operation, but to our team, which is accelerating the value realization from the platform.”

Verizon’s adoption of Salesforce is clearly hitting the right notes for Walker. “Salesforce is a platform that is constantly being developed. You constantly get additional capability that you don’t have to build internally, so you can focus on your business instead. Because, by the way, it’s an extraordinarily rich platform. You can do just about anything you can imagine on it. And with the new capabilities that are being created, it goes from a scenario where you’re trying to build a platform that does everything your business can do to getting your business to leverage all the capabilities that are already built in, so it becomes not how fast can your IT department move, but how fast can you move your business.”

With Verizon being the kind of company it is with acquisitions and new revenue streams coming up all the time, the Salesforce system needs to adapt to every change in operations. “We haven’t found anything we’ve been unable to adapt to,” Walker enthuses. “In fact, I see it becoming at least an industry standard. But more than that, I see customer experience becoming, as it has already begun to become: a driving factor in how we roll out products and interact with our customers. And how we honor and respect our customers’ time and how we empower them by creating convenience.

“When I hear the term ‘digital transformation’, I cringe, because digital transformation is focused on technology. Whereas the focus needs to be on convenience for the customer. That’s the kind of power technology can deliver.  But, if you think, ‘I’m going to create amazing digital transformation’ it will take you to a different place than if you start out thinking ‘I’m going to create the most amazingly natural, convenient experience I can for this customer’; it will drive you to a fundamentally different solution. Both approaches may well be delivered on a handset because of the power, ubiquity and convenience our network offers. But the team that imagines the customer at every step of the journey is going to deliver better results.  With the data speeds and low latency we’ll deliver with true 5G services, I see Verizon continuing to improve our experiences while increasing convenience for the customer in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.”

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