Long story short, we shut Albion in April 2019 and I immediately went to work at our last new client, Make It Cheaper.
You’ve never heard of Make It Cheaper, because we had an awful, forgettable name and got the vast majority of our customers from white label partnerships. But MIC is a great fast-growth company with a genuinely amazing culture. In a decade it grew to become the largest energy broker for SMEs.
People are surprised when I tell them where I am. I think they expected me to turn up at a hot new VC-backed startup, take a trendy role at a tech giant, or to start another agency.
But I’m loving what I’m doing, for several reasons:
- It’s a real revenue and profit earning business, growing fast
- I’m learning tons about a very different way of doing business, all about operational excellence, daily trading, commercial deals
- The business is big enough to make a difference, but small enough to change
- It gives me a chance to actually deliver some of the amazing thinking we did at Albion in the energy, insurance and telecoms markets, but that our clients frustratingly weren’t able to get live
- The diversity of our team make most agencies look stale, male and pale. The energy of the place is amazing, it crackles. It has a real and tangible culture with codes and rituals.
Chief Customer Officer? What’s that?
I ended up with this year’s trendy title, Chief Customer Officer. Most normal people haven’t heard of it yet and think it’s a bit odd, that it means I’m looking after the call centre. How I’m defining the role is:
Joining-up the different parts of the business to create a more coherent, productive and distinctive customer experience.
What I’ve actually spent the last 9 months doing is:
- Loads of customer insights, to understand who our current customers are and why, and who our next customers could be and what unmet needs we could fulfil for them
- Starting to build a customer community, so our employees can be more connected to our customers as people, not stats
- Developing new customer-led product and service propositions
- Helping to create a new ‘hybrid’ customer experience that combines the speed and convenience of digital with the clarity and reassurance of voice
- Helping to build a digital marketing model, to try and find new kinds of customers directly
- Developing a new brand name, positioning and identity
The two big outputs so far have been the new customer experience and the new brand…
A ‘hybrid’ customer experience
Business energy, insurance and connectivity are different to their domestic equivalents, as they’re more complex and the stakes are higher, which means a pure digital experience leaves people with unanswered questions. Yet a pure voice experience involves lots of time wasted with an agent entering information on the customer’s behalf.
So we have created new ‘hybrid’ journey, that uses data integrations to give customers the speed and convince of digital, with the clarity and trust of talking to an expert on a much shorter call.
Customers find this experience vastly better than anything else in the market, even a little magical. It’s performing amazingly well, with a very significant uplift to sales, and we’ve only just started.
The first brand in SME services
The energy ‘TPI’ (Third Party Intermediary) market is full of generic, descriptively-named utilities savings companies. To SME customers they are underwhelming and interchangeable. They isn’t a top-of-mind ‘no brainer’ choice, there isn’t a choice that makes you feel proud to use it.
The Bionic brand we’ve developed aims to be that beacon, offering a clearly different choice, with distinctive rational benefit, but also a more emotive promise that people can identify with.
How we’ve worked with agencies
With me having worked in agencies for over 20 years, it’s perhaps interesting that we’ve done 90% of this work with our internal brand, product and marketing teams. And when we have worked with agencies, it’s been in a quite different way.
I brought a team from Albion / Fluxx in for 6 weeks to augment our in-house insight team to accelerate towards a consumer segmentation. I brought a team from Confederation Studio in for 6 weeks to augment our in-house design team to accelerate towards a new brand identity. I brought a team from BYO in for 6 weeks to augment our in-house web team to accelerate towards a new website.
In each case I was hiring the team more than the agency. I was hiring them for a short sprint with a well-defined objective. I insisted that they came to work in our office. That they worked with, not for, our internal people.
I didn’t sit down and think deeply about this, it’s just what made sense and, because I know the right kind of agency folk, I could get them to do it.
It worked well for me, but I’m less sure it worked well for them. It probably wasn’t very profitable for them. They don’t really have a ‘thing’ they can put on their website, they just played a really important part in us getting to an outcome maybe months later.
As I keep saying to the team, this year’s work is the start of something, not the end of something. We have big plans for next year to start to make Bionic the brand that SMEs deserve.
After years in agencies trying to influence people to influence people to do the right thing, it’s refreshing and exciting and a little daunting to feel a very direct connection between what we do and the success of the business.
I’m the Chief Customer Officer at Bionic, where we’re making it radically easier to operate an SME, starting with energy, insurance and connectivity.