In-depth: Richard George, Director of Digital at eircom

by Jessica Ramesh
eircom Executive portraits. Pictured is Richard George. Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2015

Richard George is Director of Digital at eircom, Ireland’s largest telecommunications provider. He tells Estelle Hakner about some of the career lessons he’s learned so far and explains how the brand keeps its products and services relevant to a demanding audience of digital consumers

What does an average day look like for you as Director of Digital at eircom?

Well, to give you a better idea, it’s probably worth starting by introducing eircom. For those who haven’t heard of us, eircom is Ireland’s largest telecommunications provider. We currently are the only provider in Ireland to offer quad play bundles (your phone line, broadband, TV and mobile together), and we also have a number of standalone mobile brands, Meteor and eMobile. eircom is a company going through an exciting transformation, with digital very much at the heart of this, and also at the heart of our future customer experience vision. This means every day is an exciting mix of improving the ‘now’, whilst trying to steer ourselves towards our customer experience utopia. The digital team sits across all three consumer-facing brands and is focused on driving digital sales, serving our customers digitally (whether purely online, through webchat, or social media), the creative and UX execution across our digital touch-points, and our future digital strategy and the associated programmes that go with it. The broad remit, and desire for business transformation, makes every day unique.

What was your first job in the marketing/digital industry and how have things changed since then?

I don’t have a traditional marketing background. My first marketing focused job was for M&S, and involved trying to harness the power of digital within M&S stores. The challenge was to use digital technology, including kiosks, tablets and signage, to show customers in smaller stores the breadth and depth of products that M&S sold. From initial trials, we found that customers came into stores to interact with either people or products, so a screen standing on its own just wouldn’t suffice. By creating an environment to facilitate interaction and allowing the customer to see the product, we could drive the best outcome.

We used this insight to create Style Online, a shop within a shop concept that allowed customers to see sample clothes, outfit-build on large digital screens with the help of style advisors and purchase either through kiosk or tablet. The concept went on to win an Innovation in Retail Award. Things in the market have continued to evolve since, with propositions that offer high customer satisfaction and cost effectiveness becoming mainstream. But broader digital ‘in-store’ experiences are still dominated by a select few brands or the flagship stores. The big player in-store is the mobile, and the endless possibilities for engagement, interaction and transaction that this presents.

Are there any words of wisdom you wish you’d been given at the start of your career in digital/ marketing?

Yes I would have told myself to invest in central London property! Seriously though, I would have said three things.

First, “Think customer first”. It is key to understand changing consumer habits and preferences, and adapt your experiences accordingly. Over the last two years we have seen the number of customers visiting our eircom site as a first point of contact, before calling customer care, jump to 90 per cent of all calls, which has meant we have had to adapt. It’s also important that we tie together the experience within channels, with ‘discovery’, ‘selling’ and ‘serving’ becoming more integrated.

Secondly, “Data and measurement is a must, but you have to find the right metrics.” There are so many tools that can be used and metrics to monitor that data blindness is a real risk. In general we have tried to consolidate the tools we use for measurement, focusing on performance tools (as measurement vs KPIs), customer interaction tools (to understand what our customers are doing on our site) and feedback tools (to be able to listen to what your customers are saying, either through onsite surveys or indirectly through webchat).

Thirdly, “Digital is so much bigger than marketing and online teams, you need to get broader buy in.” The companies that maximise the opportunity of digital have an awareness and a mindset running throughout the organisation, whether it’s new digital products from the products team, new propositions that can easily be explained to a customer on a website, or how digital is used, referenced or supported in non-digital channels. Getting this cross-organisation support isn’t easy, but it will give you the edge.

Telecommunications is not a sector that immediately screams excitement to the average user. How have you overcome this issue and what advice can you give to marketers in similar industries?

Telecommunications may not have had a reputation for excitement in the past, but the reality in 2015 is we are now in the entertainment business, with our TV and voice-on-demand offerings, sleek mobile handsets and wearables, and a lightning fast network to stream from anywhere. Bringing this to life digitally really is exciting! From a customer perspective, broadband is still our hero product. When a customer visits our site we need to provide the facts on speed, package and installation upfront, ensure it’s accessible through a responsive site, and easy to purchase in whatever channel the customer wants. That might be digitally, or a hand-off to the contact centre or retail stores.

We then wrap the human element around this and try to help bring our products to life for our customers. Download speeds are a good example here – if we are saying 100Mb connection, we can demonstrate to a customer what this means in a real way. We have recently looked at how we sell TV online as well, really pushing it as a major product as part of our bundles and recognising the importance of TV to our customers. It’s a lot easier to have creative flair with TV packages than fibre broadband.

So, make sure you give the customers what they want with minimal effort, make it human and add a bit of creative flair!

As well as marketing to new customers, how do you use digital platforms to look after your existing customers who have already invested in your brand?

Over the last few years, our focus on existing customers has been driven through improvements in our self service capability. As demand has grown we have broadened the scope of what you can do online and the devices you can access this through. As a result we have seen self-service interactions jump by 120 per cent over the last year. We also find that our more valuable customers tend to use these channels, with ARPU [average revenue per user] being 10 per cent higher for those subscribed to e-care services. The next stage in our evolution is about helping our customers maximise the value they get from eircom, both from personalised recommendations onsite and in app, but also by giving more opportunities to interact through social and forums.

What steps have you taken to personalise your communications with customers, and why is this important?

In an industry such as telecommunications, personalisation is all the more relevant, with the need to talk to new and existing customers, who have different product ranges available across different geographies. We use a range of personalisation techniques, from the traditional email marketing supported by big data analysis to identify the right segments, to Facebook custom audience campaigns, to onsite personalisation—some inferred (based on location, previous visits or browser) to CRM-driven personalised offers, to cross-channel push notifications, to our web chat invites. Ultimately, we are trying to achieve relevance at the particular point the customer is interacting with us.

Can you tell us a little more about the new service app that eircom are launching?

Yes, we will be launching our new digital service app shortly. We currently have over 50 per cent of our base interacting digitally, and we are keen to provide new ways to give our customers access to this rich content. We have taken an iterative approach to our delivery, and really tried to challenge what we have done before digitally. It’s coming soon to an app store near you ….

How does mobile fit into eircom’s overall marketing mix?

Mobile is playing an ever increasing role in our mix with 40 per cent of our traffic coming from a mobile device. As eircom is an established brand, we have good equity and awareness from an SEO perspective, which means a large proportion of our traffic comes organically. We rebuilt our core website at the end of last year, making it mobile responsive, which meant during the recent ‘mobile- Armageddon’ Google algorithm change, we were not impacted. Similar to most businesses, we have seen continued growth in mobile PPC and are looking at new ways to engage our customers in the right way through mobile.

With the ever-demanding ‘always-on’ consumer wanting higher-speed connectivity and an increased data intake, what are the digital challenges facing the telecommunications sector? And how can marketers respond?

I have mentioned ‘relevance’ a number of times and I think this is very much applicable to this question. The telecommunications sector in Ireland has been evolving rapidly over the past few years with the roll out of fibre broadband which has made Irish download speeds the seventh fastest in the world, and the popularity of bundled deals (which have had less take up in the UK). The future promises fibre to the home, a national broadband plan for rural areas and the promise of convergence, allowing customers to seamlessly move across data network. With all of these great advances comes a lot of noise, and possible confusion for the customer. It is the marketer’s challenge to tell the story in a simple to understand way that also identifies the proposition most relevant to that consumer at that time. Doing this digitally, in a self-service environment, makes the challenge even more interesting.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the current state of digital marketing?

The big challenge, which seems to have been around for some time, remains sales attribution across channels and tying this back to specific marketing channel and campaign. There are various tools in the market that let you track calls from your website and tie them back to marketing channel. There are other tools that allow in-store attribution. But we are yet to find the solution that ties this all together across device and channel. It’s almost there, but not quite!

Interview by Estelle Hakner