A Conversation with AKIO’s Head of Marketing, Philippe Guiheneuc
In today's MarTech leader conversation, we speak with Philippe Guiheneuc, the head of marketing and customer experience at AKIO, a French customer service software company. The company is well-established in France and is quickly expanding on the international stage. We chat with Philippe about the importance of connecting with customers and the growing battle between science and stories in marketing.
AKIO is the first French software that equips contact centers with customer services. We enable agents to respond quickly and efficiently to any customer requests—which is becoming more and more complex.
We've been around for about 20 years and currently have around 80 employees. We operate mainly in France, but we are expanding internationally. We work mainly with large French accounts, such as Engie, Interflora, Thales, Le Monde, Sandoz, and Kiabi. As you can see, our customers come from a wide range of sectors and industries. We work a lot with the retail industry, but also with insurance, banks, and utilities.
We exist in a very well-structured market, so we do have a lot of competitors. The biggest ones are North American: for example, Zendesk, Salesforce, and NICE. We also have French competitors, such as Genesys or Kiamo. Our positioning is that we work well with French companies and that we support and accompany clients much more than big American actors such as Zendesk. We are much closer with our clients than these big competitors.
We are very well known in France—we are part of all the software digital databases regarding contact centers. We are quoted by Gartner and by Markess, and our NPS (Net Promoter Score) is twice as high as the industry average.
My responsibility is to express our company's strategic message, first of all, and then to implement it. And also to focus on customer satisfaction. This involves five different steps: First, understanding the market. Second, adapting AKIO’s offer to the market. Third, communicating on what we have created in order to answer the market demand. Fourth, enabling sales to actually sell these offers after we have spread the word through communication. And finally fifth, making sure that the customers are satisfied. And there's eventually a sixth point, which is to be sure that my team is happy and that they are satisfied with their jobs.
We have three teams within our overall department. The first one is digital marketing, which produces content and distributes it on our website and social networks. Then we have relational marketing. That team gets in contact with clients, organizes customer clubs and customer meetups, helps salespeople get in touch with the interlocutors in our clients' companies, and also organizes or participates in events. Then we have design. It's very important, in my opinion, that we have someone at AKIO who specializes in marketing design in order to create beauty all around the messages we create.
The only important KPI for us is customer satisfaction. Of course, we measure some other things, such as, for example, web traffic or number of leads generated. But all of them lead to this very important KPI that is customer satisfaction. Because we understand that if customers are satisfied, not only will they buy our other offers, but they will also speak to other clients, speak to prospects, talk about us positively on the web, and so on.
In terms of a typical day, we produce a wide variety of content and that's very important in our day-to-day work. After that, we distribute it. To do that, we use Google Analytics, FlexMail, Efficy. We use GetQuanty to identify companies that are coming to our website. We also participate in a variety of events.
We're very well known in France but not as well elsewhere. Our first goal is to go international. To do that, we have decided to change our business model from a direct one to an indirect one. That means that we are trying to find partners. We've been doing it for two or three years now. And we signed a very important partnership last year with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, and they are going to sell one of our products all over the world starting next December.
We have two other important goals. One is to migrate completely to the cloud. Today, we are SaaS. It's important in terms of scalability to transition to the cloud. Today, we are a French company operating in France, and we have a private cloud solution. In France, it's very important for some of our clients to have this private cloud because of the security and confidentiality of the data, but if we want to go international, we need to fully move to the cloud. The other goal is to continue to improve the satisfaction levels of our clients.
In terms of challenges, our main barrier is that our market is very tight. There are not a lot of prospects. There are maybe 2,000 to 4,000 companies who are able to buy our product. So, the goal is to get to know them very well—to know when they might be in the position to buy another product, and what their motivation will be. That's the reason why we don't only do digital marketing but also network marketing. We need to be very close to the market. And our job in the digital marketing space is also to do that sort of thing: to produce content in order to create an interaction with them.
When I started working at AKIO a few years ago, I began with market research. What I discovered is that our market is saturated with technical people—mostly software engineers. These people like to talk about their products in technical detail. I understood that our public audience is made of specialists not in technology, but in people, because they manage contact centers. What is important for them is to have partners, such as software editors like us, who understand that the way they interact with people is more important. After that, our messages completely changed.
I've just written a book about this called Marketing ZERO. As I say in this book, mass marketing has been a real problem for the last few years because of the internet. There has always been mass marketing. For example, in the ‘70s or the ‘80s, there was mass marketing—you received mail. But now with the internet, it has become really problematic. After a while, people will refuse it. People are suing companies because they are almost polluting their lives with too many messages. However, companies like Facebook, for instance, don’t hesitate to spy on people.
The book proposes a more respectful, more responsible way to do marketing. But because it's respectful, we think it can be more efficient, too. Unfortunately, I think that the trend is to automate everything that can be automated and to create mass marketing more and more. Essentially, it's a fight between scientific or mathematical marketing and marketing based on stories.
There is so much content out there—so many competitors talking about the same things as us. Our challenge is finding ways to produce content that doesn't only explain the product, but that gives real motivation to the prospect.
One solution has been to introduce emotional concepts and emotional elements into our content. Our content can be fun—it can help people smile. It's difficult, because, even at AKIO, people don't always understand why we do that sort of content. Some engineers here at AKIO are very, very experienced. They look at our content, and sometimes they would say, "What is this stuff? It's not serious." So, it's difficult to break through this culture of science and to speak to the hearts of the people we're making the content for. Because we are not just software editors; we are people with blood and flesh, and we like what we do, we are sure of our vision, and we want to share it with other people.
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