Stephen has held senior executive roles in marketing, customer growth, distribution, or product with Barclays, AMP, Frizzell, Berkeley Berry Birch, and Standard Life. The latter is the UK’s largest pensions and investment company. Stephen was there for about nine years total (4 in a CX-type senior role) but recently left — and we do cover that in the podcast. Because he’s held the role (or similar roles) in so many different companies (and business models), I thought it would be interesting to discuss how the roles tend to evolve and where (at what stage of the lifecycle) he’s entered each one.
More About Stephen
With a track record in transformational leadership, Stephen has built a reputation for leading and implementing successful customer focused, innovative and profitable initiatives.
Most recently, Stephen was the Managing Director of marketing and customers at Standard Life, the UK’s largest pensions and investment company, where he contributed significantly to the far-reaching overhaul and growth of the 190-year-old regulated business.
Specifically, Stephen was hands on in leading the transformation of Standard Life’s marketing and customer functions using the latest creative thinking and new technology capabilities in digital and data to engage with four million plus customers.
A key focus for his change leadership was to use customer insights, data analytics and digital channels to drive a significant improvement in customer and commercial outcomes.
This was successfully achieved by developing a collaborative, creative and agile culture which in turn, established the foundations for new innovative commercial initiatives.
These included the creation of new marketing approaches to acquire and retain customers and the formation of a new customer focused digital business channel.
Throughout his career, Stephen has been an influential advocate of making the world more open, transparent and accessible to all through innovation and new technologies.
Prior to Standard Life, Stephen held senior executive customer, marketing, distribution and product roles with Barclays, AMP, Frizzell and Berkeley Berry Birch.
During his career, he has also held a number of non-executive roles with professional bodies and the financial services regulator.
He also regularly writes and speaks at global conferences on subjects ranging from customer experience, innovation, marketing and leadership.
Customer as assets: Acquisition and retention
At Standard Life, there was great growth in pockets (new customer acquisition). But at the same time, customers were leaving at a pretty high clip too. Many executives speculated that the departure could be about the product or the pricing of a competitor. But when Stephen’s actually talked to the departing customers, the No. 1 reason was “We don’t feel listened to” or “We don’t feel special.” They cited generic, non-customized communications and overall bad (or unmemorable) customer experience. This is exactly what we discuss when we say “customers as assets.”
A simple way to think about this is:
- Growth is often viewed at “top of bucket” — customers streaming in, etc.
- But you’re often losing similar money at the bottom of the bucket — retained customers departing
- There are a number of growth strategies, but usually the main retention strategy is improved experience
- Now you have a revenue tie between customer experience and the bottom line
- Go work it
All of this comes from caring about the “why” of this work, too. Work can often be about the what (needs to be done) or the how (will it get done). But without the “why,” much of this work becomes very challenging to do.
The first three months
Stephen felt like he had two big tasks:
- Develop his team
- Allow small teams to work on quick initiatives for “quick wins”
The team development would be a challenge because marketing was defined primarily in Standard Life as “advertising” and “product sales support literature.” Marketing came under him, so he had to shift that function. He also brought the complaints team under him (customer complaints, in other words) and digital marketing under him. With digital, he tried to embed them into multiple business units so that what the company was doing digitally wasn’t seen as “some thing over here.”
Any staff development issues are less about forcing new roles and much more about empowering people to make decisions and operate in new roles.
“We need to get married”
He told that to Mark, his CTO. Literal meaning? No. But it means become close and know each other. Care. Otherwise the customer experience can suffer. They have to feel comfortable popping in, meeting for dinner, etc. — because they will be that deep in it with each other on the real hard-to-implement work.
Another thing Stephen mentioned in this section about human interaction was this: customer experience is nearly impossible without also focusing on employee experience. Many seasoned executives miss this, so I love that Stephen included it.
Why did Stephen depart Standard Life?
He felt like taking some time to understand and pursue new challenges. (He’s also very big into running, and wanted to take some time to focus there.) Presently he’s not sure if he’ll switch industries, although financial services seems like the winner. “I think I probably have one more senior role in me,” he jokes.
The pay it forward question
What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?
- This is a journey: Focus less on achieving the vision or strategy and more on enjoying the journey. It is tough. So look upon those bruises and scars you’ll get as badges of honor from the path.
- The logical case doesn’t win: The emotional case often does. Habits, emotions, ways we’ve always done things, etc. You have to bring along the emotional side as well as (or as fast as) the logical side.
- Invest in new tools/talent: Both personnel sides and tech stack are moving quickly right now. Learn what’s happening and invest in some of it (what makes sense for your business).
- Understand metrics: Consider them by journey stage, or else it often gets very overwhelming and then people abandon the idea of metrics (too much other stuff going on).