Don’t try to sell, help to buy: Track’s Andy Bell on understanding the customer journey

Following a year of significant growth for Track New Zealand, with new clients and a double in headcount, Erin McKenzie talks to managing director Andy Bell about what it means to be in the business of customer intimacy, and why a hybrid of data and human is the way forward.

With 2020 and a new decade underway, it’s a time for reflection and assessing how to move forward. Some say, “new year, new me” but sitting down with Track New Zealand managing director Andy Bell, moving forward is a case of holding onto the momentum it’s built in the past year and taking that further.

Andy Bell

“We have learned a lot in the last year,” Bell says.

“You learn a lot when you go through tough times and lose clients and in the time, I have been here we have had that but last year we had a different kind of challenge: ‘how do you cope with growth of that scale and see it through’.”

Track New Zealand was born in 2016 as a replacement of the Rapp brand across Australia and New Zealand. With the change of name came an investment from DDB Group Australia and New Zealand in its own CRM network.

DDB Group Australia and New Zealand Chairman, Marty O’Halloran said: “We have enjoyed a highly successful relationship with Rapp for many years but we are at a scale and time in the business’ life cycle that we need the freedom to invest further in CRM capabilities and control our offering more in local markets. We have significant plans to re-launch and grow the business across Australia and New Zealand as well as integrate these into the broader strategic framework of Group clients.”

And grow the business it has.

In 2019 alone, the New Zealand arm kicked off the year with a team of 33 and closed the year with a headcount of 60.

The new crew are helping to service a number of new accounts, including Vodafone, Lotto and Metlifecare, while also supporting growing business from existing clients.

“It felt like we had the tiger by the tail at times,” Bell says reflecting on 2019 and the subsequent lessons he and the team have learned. Track is an agency that promises to grow its clients’ businesses and it has been doing the same for itself.

The reason for the growth is made clear when looking at the agency’s client roster. Where personal, intimate customer experiences were once just for businesses in the service industries, like banks and insurance companies as they have long been collecting customer data, now businesses of all kinds are collecting data and looking for the best way to use it.

But why now? Bell explains customer expectations have shifted and competition is no longer confined to silos of business categories.

“It used to be that you only had to worry about the experience your competitors were giving. Now you benchmark for experience is whoever is giving the best experience right now.”

Alongside this, digital has brought down the transaction cost of reaching and interacting with customers.

“Brands that traditionally haven’t had an individual relationship with individuals now do because digital has reduced the cost and growth is harder to come by. Suddenly this becomes a viable proposition to deliver incremental growth.”

From technology to touching

But while the rise of digital can be credited to aiding in reaching and interacting with customers, it shouldn’t become the be-all and end-all for marketers.

Bell warns against being enamored by the technology, saying marketers need to remember there is a human at the other end of the communication.

“I think it’s easy to get enamored of the technology – with MarTech it’s like ‘wow I can do all this stuff’. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” he says.

“You need that balance between the data and the technology to enable you to reach individuals in the right moment at scale, but then need to know who you are talking to and the part of the journey they are on.”

Bell puts emphasis on that word “journey” as a reminder that at any given moment businesses are engaging with existing customers, potential customers, and customers who can be upsold, to name a few.

Each of these different customers is on a different part of the journey and therefore engagement needs to be considered differently in order to improve an individual’s experiences.

To aid in this, Bell says focus needs to be given to understanding emotion and context.

“In a lot of cases marketers will do what they want to do to but the flip is to go: ‘I’m not selling to this person, I’m helping them to buy so what do I need to do and what do they need from me’.

“What’s going on emotionally in this moment, what does the customer need from us and how are we going to respond.”

Simply put, a digital assistant might not pick up on a customer who is frustrated, but when a customer is given someone to help them face-to-face, their emotions can be understood and addressed.

Bell adds it often sees business initiatives that are aimed at removing pain-points for customers but says instead of ticking the list, those businesses should be looking to build beyond those pain points and lift the bar for the entire customer journey.

Know what works for you

While Bell explains the resurgence in a customer focus approach, he does caveat the conversation with the question “how much of it do you need?”.

Like it’s the businesses in the service industries that have longest-held the focus on personal experiences, they too are the ones Bell says need the greatest focus on that personal touch.

Meanwhile, the likes of mass retailers will only benefit from it to a degree. Bell says with those industries, there will come a point where there is diminishing returns on the investment.

“If this is about growth, there’s a commercial aspect that says the amount you need is where the return is positive. If you go beyond that and actually you are having the opposite effect – so this is not something to over-invest in either.”

That’s where Bell says the objective perspective of an agency comes in. Like its clients work to know their customers, he says the agency works to know its clients and therefore knows when they have invested enough.

“If we are doing our client intimacy well, we understand our client and we know where that tipping point is likely to be.”

But for all businesses, in all categories, though the requirement for investment may differ, Bell does see a common theme to success and that’s creating finding the correct combination of technology and human interaction.

“There is plenty of research that says in most categories it’s hybrid experiences that are most satisfactory and are the highest impacting over purely digital or purely human experiences,” he says.

“I think that hybrid design thing will come more into play and it will be about how do we find a balance between when a human is needed and the tech.”

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