Philippe Guiheneuc is the Marketing Director at Akio
, a company that provides customer experience software platforms. It proposes cross-channel solutions that help you with customer engagement management, voice of the customer analysis and brand reputation monitoring.
In this Q&A, Philippe speaks about customer satisfaction, CRM, marketing strategies, challenges, branding, and more.
MEDIA 7: What inspired you to get into Marketing?
Coming from a family of officials, farmers and painters, I discovered the world of business at the ESSEC business school in Paris. I carefully avoided three subjects: Computer Science, with its flashy green dashboards on a black background, Accounting, for its remarkable ability to make me lose patience, and Selling, because I could not bear to be told no. Consequently, my first job was to sell accounting software!
Only fools refuse to change their mind. So I may be half intelligent, because althoughI have discovered a passion for businesswith its three components (communication-marketing-sales) and innovation, to the point of teaching storytelling in business schools, unfortunately I remain insensitive to the poetry of a P&L.
That's why I chose to work at Akio. Respect for customers is no longer just a professional obligation but an extraordinary lever for growth. Thanks to the Akio.Cx platform, I contribute a little bit every day to make life easier for customer agents, and that's what makes me happy.
M7: What core issue does Akio.Cx software aim to address and what sets it apart from the competition?
Akio is the editor of the omnichannel call centre platform Akio.Cx. Our core mission is to turn complexity into simplicity!
In the context of increased competition, the quality of the response delivered to clients has become a major stake for all companies. However, the job of a customer advisor is becoming increasingly complex as customers use new channels to interact with companies.
With the customer service platform Akio.Cx
, the customer service will develop a personalised experience for its clients, regardless of which channel they choose (phone, e-mail, chat, social media, etc.), thanks to unified client knowledge that is reinforced by semantic analysis.
In 20 years, Akio has built a solid base of references among the largest French companies (AxaBanque, Banque de France, MGEN, URSSAF, Air France, Interflora, Engie, GrDF; Sarenza, Kiabi, Arkea, BPI France Cora, LPM Dyneff, Grep, Ircem, Photoweb, Sandoz, MTP, VMmag, MSD, CAFAT, CGSS, OPT, Bruneau, AMDM, etc.)
Initially, the platform was provided ‘on-premise’, then through a ‘hybrid’ model, and since 2017 it’s provided as a ‘SaaS’ tool.
Recently, Akio announced a global partnership with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise that will offer the Akio.Cx platform to all of its 800,000 customers. This alliance is coupled with a project linked to the notion of the "augmented agent", i.e. high-tech tools made available to customer service representatives to facilitate their work and help them gain in efficiency.
"Corporate executives have realised that with the web and social networks, a dissatisfied customer can create a devastating effect by communicating his dissatisfaction to all his contacts."
M7: How are your customer and prospect needs and values changing? How will these changes affect the decision-making of customers and prospects? What are the best methods followed by your marketing team at Akio to capture these shifts and trends quickly and reliably?
PG: Our decision-makers are the Customer Relationship Managers. They manage platforms for customer agents, their objective being to ensure customer satisfaction, while improving contact centre productivity. This is a balancing act, all the more difficult as the pressure increases every day. In fact, corporate executives have realised that with the web and social networks, a dissatisfied customer can create a devastating effect by communicating his dissatisfaction to all his contacts.
Company value is directly correlated to customer satisfaction, as shown for years by the ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index), which is increasingly used by financial analysts to predict a company's short-term stock market value.
As a result, in recent years, customer services have been receiving increasingly large budgets for modernisation. These budgets concern in particular the acquisition of software such as Akio.Cx. According to Gartner, Customer experience (CX) and CRM posted the highest growth among all application software markets, and remained the largest enterprise software market in 2018, with more than $48.2 billion in sales.
At the same time, the customer relationship business is becoming increasingly complex. Customer service agents have to manage extensive catalogues of offers.
Regulations are constantly changing and expanding, forcing them to comply with increasingly cumbersome procedures. Customers are more demanding (an Akio-LSA study has shown that two-thirds of them are ready to change brand if they are not satisfied from the first interaction). Above all, the channels of exchange are multiplying. In addition to the telephone, traditional post and email, chat, Facebook Messenger and Twitter are being added, and soon other channels such as video or instant messaging.
Understanding this evolution is essential for Akio to continue to offer adapted and efficient offers to its customers. To achieve this, we privilege three axes of development:
- Contact with our customers, in the form of monthly meetings and quarterly workshops to discuss business perspectives. Of course, these exchanges are complemented by the daily relations that our Customer Success Managers maintain with our customers.
- Observation of the analyses reported by our ecosystem of partners, in particular the reports and white papers published by analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, Forbes, IDC and Markess, along with our competitor’s literature.
- Finally, studies carried out by Akio, most often in partnership with a specialist, to better understand a specific point on which there is no survey or study. In particular, we were the first to identify that the well-being of their teams was more important to the Customer Relationship Managers than the achievement of customer satisfaction objectives.
M7: How do you approach branding your company, its products, and services? What’s your go-to resource – websites, newsletters, any other to stay in touch with the critical changes occurring in the digital space?
PG: When it comes to branding, the first step is to develop a clear message. This message reflects the company's vision, which is based on our understanding of the needs of the market, as well as the promise of value and the guarantee that this promise will be kept. Akio's core message (see the answer to your 2nd question) is the guiding line of all our communications.
It is declined in several ways depending on the audience we address, the situation and the delivery method used. We use both traditional media such as brochures, emailing campaigns or stands attrade shows, as well as more original formats (infographics, workbooks, forums, demonstration videos...). More generally, although our clients are sensitive to traditional approaches, our marketing is evolving towards more digital. The other major trend is the production of content, for which we strive to maintain a high level of quality. Whether it is an article, a white paper or a study, each new content produced by Akio must bring something never heard, such as a new information or an innovative analysis.
"With an ever-increasing level of customer demand, software editors, like all companies, have an interest in proving that they are selling not just a product but a complete experience."
M7: Can you share some top challenges that contact centres face when transitioning to an omnichannel approach?
PG: They are of three types: strategic, managerial and technological.
- Strategic: The goals that customer service sets for itself by adding new interaction channels will have an impact on the way they are implemented. For example, our customer DHL implemented the chat channel in addition to phone and email, originally to reach a specific audience of digital natives. But the new channel was quickly adopted by a large part of their audience, so they had to set new productivity targets to compare the effectiveness of the different channels and measure the performance of the omnichannel approach, such as the ability of the agent to process a request more quickly using multiple channels.
- Managerial: The skills for answering a call are not the same as those for writing an email, or responding to a Facebook message. Therefore, the contact centre has the choice between recruiting multi-skilled advisors and training them to use all channels or building teams that are specialised by channel. The second type of organisation does not prevent an omnichannel approach as long as the tool used allows on the one hand to centralise all the information in a customer file, and on the other hand to share it between agents. So far, the choice seems to depend essentially on the existing organisation and the willingness of management to decompartmentalize the channels.
- Technological: Although it seems obvious that an omnichannel approach must be based on omnichannel software, few software programs are actually really omnichannel. Most of them pile up technological bricks that communicate with each other. This is enough for the daily life of customer service agents, but such tools, which are not very agile, quickly become fragile as soon as they need to be upgraded. In addition, they do not offer consolidated statistics across all channels, which limits the measurement of customer service performance.
M7: What lessons have you learnt from your time at Master 2 Marketing that you have applied to the marketing strategies at Akio?
PG: I teach digital communication and brand content in Master 2 marketing in a business school in Paris. Contrary to Akio, whose activity is 100% B2B, brand content, which I practiced a lot in a previous experience, is B2C oriented. More generally, the notion of "brand" is insufficiently exploited among software publishers. However, with an ever-increasing level of customer demand, software editors, like all companies, have an interest in proving that they are selling not just a product but a complete experience.
At Akio, I helped accelerate this marketing transformation. Our marketing and sales discourse was very technical, very product-oriented; it remains so, but we have added a "customer experience" dimension. For example, instead of listing the product functionalities in the form of concepts and benefits ("Integrates an AI engine", "Workflow management", "Report generator") we now present the functionalities as part of the user journey in the form of a graphic design.
At a strategic level, we redefined Akio’s communication guidelines based on the essential message, then redesigned all our marketing supports and campaigns according to those guidelines. This gives consistency to our communication and helps audiences remember Akio.
"When it comes to branding, the first step is to develop a clear message. This message reflects the company's vision, which is based on our understanding of the needs of the market, as well as the promise of value and the guarantee that this promise will be kept."
M7: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work - what day to day processes have you had to re-tool to be able to pull them off remotely? What does your remote tech stack look like?
PG: As an IT company, Akio is well equipped for teleworking - some of the teams were already doing it long before the coronavirus crisis. Because we work in the field of customer relations, we regularly manage sensitive periods with our customers, for instance when they face a peak inactivity. The period of lockdown and the lifting of lockdown have therefore not caused any major upheaval in our business. For example, Akio has not had to use the administrative unemployment scheme; on the contrary, we seek at all times to increase the production capacity of the teams.
This is particularly true of the teams of IT developers, because they are organised in Agile mode, a work organisation that easily adapts to remote working.
M7: How does Akio manage multiple marketing divisions effectively? What type of storytelling experiences do you produce for social media channels?
PG: Akio is an SME with a small marketing team, which facilitates a horizontal management where each marketer is responsible for his own scope of activity. Regarding our actions on social networks, we try to respect the spirit of web 2.0, namely "give to get": our contents and stories are intended to bring information or entertainment to the public, with no other counterpart than brand valorisation.
For example, we produced a study on how contact centres were organised to deal with the coronavirus crisis. Following a survey of nearly 60 customer relationship managers, we published an analytical report that provides useful trends on management options and technological choices made to deal with the crisis. This report, in French, has been made freely available to the market and was shared on social networks.
M7: Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Selects Akio to Deliver New CCaaS Hybrid Offering. What is your role in meeting partnership expectations? How do you go about assessing their needs?
PG: The collaboration of the marketing department in this alliance project focused on the study of needs and the definition of offers.
An important part of the study work was carried out upstream of the discussions by the marketing teams of each partner. It was mainly a question of comparing and aligning our visions of the market. A few meetings were necessary, but in fact the analysis of the two companies was very close and this part of the work was easy.
More complicated was the definition of the offer, since each of our products propose a wide range of features.
As this is a high-tech field, using various engineering techniques (telephony, digital techniques, collaborative tools, cloud...), product marketing was largely driven by the Product Owners of the two partners. Along with the development and infrastructure engineers, they drew the outlines of what the new offer will be. Marketing and communication had an advisory role. It helped to maintain the consistency of the offer with the expression of market needs, and will also contribute, in due course, to making this offer known to the public through a coordinated plan of communication actions.
M7: If I were to say to a bunch of people who know you, ‘Give me three adjectives that best describe you,’ what would I hear?
PG: Maybe committed, cerebral and enthusiastic.
As with everyone else, none of these adjectives are easy to hold. Keeping on course with the essential line of one's existence is a constant struggle.