Innovator Interview: Marlon Bowser, CEO, HTK (data-driven CX & loyalty)

Marlon Bowser, CEO, HTK (data-driven CX & loyalty)

The background to the interview is described below the video embed. I found the interview refreshing and insightful, it provides some great quotes such as: “Context is more important than channel.”

The contextual relevance of voice, SMS, email or web chat as channels will remain for years to come. We really are at the early days of using WhatsApp, FB Messenger, Android Messenger (with RCS hidden under the hood), etc..

Another great point made was the importance of brands putting smiles on people’s faces when and where it matters (context again). Marlon gave loads of use cases. One that interested me was O2’s Marketing IVR, which customizes the IVR menu to the person calling in. If it looks like they need to top-up, then that’s the first item in the menu. If it looks like they could be a churn risk, the give them a bonus with the top-up.

I also learned the ELVIS framework: Engagement, Loyalty, Value, Influence, and Sentiment. In helping understand a customer’s interaction and the most appropriate actions.

Across the many customer communication channels Marlon raised an important point on expectations associated with a particular channel with respect to response times. That is voice is real time, messaging is minutes, an email is days. Which coupled with context, and customer preferences, influences the channel used.

Overall it’s a great practice-focused guide to the reality and complexity of omni-channel communications. I think there’s much we can do in using the data across programmable communications to aid context awareness and put more smiles on people’s faces. It also highlights the importance of professional services to help brands navigate this complex and evolving topic. Omni-channel aggregation is the tip of a massive customer experience and loyalty iceberg.

Marlon has been CEO of HTK for over 24 years. Before customer experience (CX) was even a fashionable thing, Marlon was working on it for telcos enabling marketing and loyalty programs that included programmable communications. Marlon is Suffolk born and raised, and his HQ is based there. I lived in Suffolk for a time, during my BT Labs tenure, which we also have in common.

We first met at an OpenCloud event in 2009, here’s a piece I wrote about the event. OpenCloud were one of the first open source telecom projects, founded 2000, their real-time application server exposed communication APIs. And Marlon was one of the applications that could consume those APIs. Nothing was publicly exposed yet, this was within the telco, it was the very early days of CPaaS.

HTK provides the software and services that businesses need to earn true loyalty, powered by customer experience. From engagement strategies to fully fledged loyalty programs, HTK helps marketers build more profitable customer relationships, with a mix of consultancy and cutting-edge tech. Here’s a piece I wrote about HTK in 2011. One of the things that impresses me is the consistency of HTK’s value proposition over all these years.

Here are the questions I asked:

  • What made you found HTK, and how has your company evolved over the years?
  • Horizon CXFlow provides timely, contextual two-way engagement across a range of communication channels. It’s the bit that deals with programmable communications / communication channels. I’m interested to learn from your experiences across those channels.
  • You have a long list of channels, the obvious ones like CRM, Call Center, Messaging and Chat. But also IoT and PoS (Point of Sale). Which are the most popular, what are some of the more unusual use cases?
  • I remember SMS was a significant focus, has that changed given all the other channels?
  • Does RCS come up as a channel? Do you think it will?
  • Did you ever use proprietary APIs with telcos, or have you only used public APIs from aggregators like Twilio or Nexmo?
    What’s changed from your experience with telecom and other service provider communication APIs over the past decade?
    Identity verification is a hot area, Prove Identity raised $100M, BigID raised $100M. How does identity verification fit into your solution?
  • Customer insight is an interesting area. In my personal experience I feel less loyalty to most of the services I use. And when I use new services, like Instacart, the self-serving approach to customer care really pisses me off. For example, offering a voucher for my next purchase to cover the charge they made for something not delivered. I’m never going to use them again after reflecting on the overall experience. I guess that could be a very smart insight, take his money as we screwed him so badly, he’s lost. Can you make me feel better that customer insight isn’t just going to screw me over machine-style?

4 thoughts on “Innovator Interview: Marlon Bowser, CEO, HTK (data-driven CX & loyalty)”

    1. I’d say there are a couple of important considerations here.

      1) Do customers want it? Probably – in fact I’d say “almost certainly” – yes. Even my mother is happier now on Facebook (and WhatsApp) than using email, and if she can talk to her bank – or whatever business – through the channel she’s most comfortable with, then why not? Provided that it’s ‘useful’ messaging and not advertising, because trust can quickly be eroded in terms of business intent (good vs evil).

      2) Do businesses want it? Yes, but (as above) the intent needs to be genuine, i.e. putting customers first. A lot of businesses will naturally see it as ‘another marketing channel’ and IMO that’s the wrong way of looking at things. The communication strategy of the business may need a ‘values check’ to get things right, i.e. to enforce the right discipline and governance around the use of platforms like WhatsApp.

      3) Is it the right thing to do? When I’ve talked to public sector organisations (as a pertinent example) in the past, they’ve been very hesitant to open-up new inbound channels of communication through fear of not being able to answer every message within an appropriate timeframe, i.e. putting an SLA around it (which is often how they’re measured) and that’s a legitimate concern. It doesn’t mean to say that opening-up new channels is “wrong”, just that it needs to be carefully considered in regard to meeting customer expectations.

      So, will 2021 be the year of WhatsApp for business messaging? For some companies, yes, if they’re prepared to take it seriously. Get it wrong, and it could me a difficult (and expensive) mistake to correct.

      1. Thx Marlon, that’s important insight. I’m not aware of any customer asking for another marketing channel 😉 But I am aware of many businesses testing WhatsApp and FB Messenger, and some are using it for those customers that express a preference for that channel.

        SLAs matter wrt customer expectations. I contacted a business recently by email, they have a 1-2 day average response rate stated on their site when sending in an email request. Because of load, they notified me it would be 3 days. I’m not in a rush for a response, however, my expectations are managed, and I feel that message will be dealt with, not ignored.

        But there’s a more subtle SLA around privacy. Which most customers are not aware of, or care about, until their privacy is invaded. SMS is relatively private, email (depending on service used) is less so, but WhatsApp / FBM is definitely not private given FB’s track record. What do you think the brand’s responsibility should be in WhatsApp/FBM and customer communications privacy?

        1. That’s a good question. I think that most consumers have a feel for which channels are appropriate for what type of conversation (from ‘top secret info’ on one end of the spectrum, to ‘a bit of a natter’ on the other). We wouldn’t typically want to discuss our medical notes in a crowded bar, or post a recorded-delivery letter asking our bestie what they’re up to at the weekend. We instinctively accept – and expect – a level of formality that’s congruent with the content (the ‘seriousness’ of the dialog and the requirement for privacy). Brands need to tune-in to that same wavelength, to ensure that trust is not breached.

          When it comes to ‘responsibility’, I guess brands will fall into three categories:
          1. Total integrity – no Faceweb for us, thank you very much!
          2. Pass-the-buck – “check our small print – we’re squeaky clean – it’s their fault”
          3. Plausible deniability – “they did what with your data? But how could that even happen?”

          So, I guess it’s a corporate choice based around brand values, and/ or corporate naivety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *