Episode topic: How Marketers Can Improve Their Customer Engagement
In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Su-Ren Neo, Senior Director, Marketing for Asia-Pacific and Japan at Twilio, about how marketers can improve their approach to customer engagement.
Su-Ren starts with her definition of customer engagement. She talks about the fascinating nature of APAC from a marketing perspective and emphasises the role of data in creating a competitive advantage for any company in the region.
During the conversation, Su-Ren also discusses some industry examples of companies acing the customer engagement game! She then concludes by mentioning some mistakes that companies can avoid.
This episode’s guest:
Su-Ren Neo, Senior Director, Marketing, Asia Pacific & Japan at Twilio
Su-Ren has over 20 years of experience in leading integrated marketing and brand development across technology, financial services, and telecommunications industries in global and regional capacities across Asia and North America.
She is currently Senior Director for Marketing for Twilio for Asia-Pacific and Japan. In this role, she’s responsible for driving Twilio's marketing and brand strategy.
Before Twilio, she drove marketing strategy with HSBC, Credit Suisse, United Overseas Bank, Sony, Qualcomm, and Singtel.
Su-Ren graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and is currently based in Singapore.
Connect with her on LinkedIn
Conversation segments on this episode:
- [01:15] Customer engagement is the relationship that customers have with a particular brand.
- [02:24] It’s also the entirety of the marketing funnel and beyond that as well.
- [03:29] How is APAC different from other geographies?
- [06:09] Digital transformation accelerated by 7 years.
- [07:27] Technology is a great leveller. It enables customisation at scale for every company of any size.
- [13:40] Twilio’s data-first approach.
- [15:00] Examples of companies doing a good job with customer engagement.
- [20:01] Mistakes companies make in regards to customer engagement.
- [28:14] Advise for B2B marketers - Always be customer-centric and don’t forget data!
Resources mentioned on this episode:
- About Twilio
- About xGrowth
- Rise and Strong by Brene Brown - Book recommended by Su-Ren
- The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown - Book recommended by Su-Ren
- Design Matters by Debbie Millman - Podcast and resources recommended by Su-Ren
- Simon Sinek - Influencer followed by Su-Ren
- Guy Kawasaki - Influencer followed by Su-Ren
- Amy Webb - Influencer followed by Su-Ren
- Adam Grant - Influencer followed by Su-Ren
- Angela Duckworth - Influencer followed by Su-Ren
- Grit by Angela Duckworth - Book recommended by Su-Ren
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Episode Full Transcript:
[00:32] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth and today I'm talking to Su-Ren Neo, Senior Director of Marketing APJ at Twilio, about how marketers should redefine their approach to customer engagement. What are some of the examples you can look up to? And what are some of the mistakes you should avoid? On that note? Let's dive in. Su-Ren. And thank you very much for joining us.
[00:58] Su-Ren Neo Hi Shahin. Thanks for having me.
[01:00] Shahin Hoda Absolute pleasure. Let's dive right in. I want to first know customer engagement. How do you define that? Like, what does that mean for you?
[10:12] Su-Ren Neo I think, you know, customer engagement really fundamentally, is ultimately the relationship that customers have with a particular brand, right? It's how they interact, how they communicate with one another, and how they add value to each other. So you know, it's a buzzword, but it's such a basic and primal definition of what it really truly is.
[01:35] Shahin Hoda And do you think about it as a complete experience? Or do you, you know, kind of talk about it, I know, some people talk about customer experience after kind of prospects turn into customers. And hey, how do we manage them? Or do you even take that into consideration before they kind of sign on the dotted line to become a customer?
[01:58] Su-Ren Neo That's a great question. I firmly believe that it is through the entire process, right? It's not about them becoming a customer, it's about how they perceive you, from a brand perspective, right? So you know, in the marketing terms, we talked about that funnel, right, we talked about that top of the funnel, middle, bottom of the funnel and everything. And I firmly believe that customer engagement is the entirety of the entire funnel.
[02:27] Su-Ren Neo And even goes to the level beyond the bottom of the funnel, which is in terms of retention and advocacy as well. So I'm a big fan of this inverted funnel. I, to me, that is the holy grail of what marketing really needs to be and how we should regard customer engagement overall, how we perceive our brand, right through to sign the dotted line. They use us. they continue to engage with us, they serve as our customers, and hopefully become advocates for your brand.
[02:56] Shahin Hoda Got it. Got it. What are some, when it comes to customer engagement, right? Because of your position, I really want to know, what are some of the differences that you see across different regions, you know? You are having APJ on your umbrella, you have anything from India, to Australia, to Singapore, to Japan, which is an extremely diverse geography. How do you see customer engagement across these different geographies?
[03:28] Su-Ren Neo I think that Asia Pacific is a fascinating region. In the course of my career, I've actually done marketing for outside of the Asia Pacific and global capacities as well as in the Americas as well. And I think what's fascinating about APAC is, it is not only the largest, right, of the entire world's population, like about 60% of the world's population sit in Asia Pacific itself. And it's also the diversity of the region as well, right? So diversity of languages, cultures, mindsets, how they communicate through communication channels, like with WeChat, and WhatsApp and KakaoTalk, you know, so I think that's like a really fascinating grounds for customer engagement, because those channels are critical to what they prefer.
[04:19] Su-Ren Neo And then beyond that, we start to think about the Asia Pacific region. They are also from a demographic perspective, or the composition of this population is relatively young. So you're talking about the world's probably from a population perspective, youngest population, and a lot of this is about then with this younger population, there's a certain generation and what are preferences of this particular generation? I think that in some research that we've seen, you know, we know that by 2030, the working population in Asia Pacific is going to skyrocket, right? And in contrast, I like North America and Europe as well. And it's going to build up this entire new middle class in the world.
[05:07] Su-Ren Neo And so in this myth, this big middle class that is growing, is also mobile first in our region, right? Compared to a lot of the other regions in the Americas or even in Europe. And so it influences the way that they consume media, how they also want to interact with brands, through technology, their preferences to be able to adopt technology and digital platforms, especially through mobile. And in I think one of the ways that we've seen so we take ourselves back from not only a consumer perspective, but a business perspective. So in the B2B world, when we, when we survey our B2B customers, right?
[05:46] Su-Ren Neo We actually did at Twilio a survey called the State of Customer Engagement Report. It's an annual survey that we've done, that's done globally. And what's fascinating to see about our Asia Pacific region is the rate of adoption for digital transformation. The pace is so much faster in APAC, than different parts of the world that we've surveyed. And I think that they've even reported it to be as fast as accelerating by seven years, you know, due to the pandemic, which is mind boggling. If you think about that, right?
[06:18] Su-Ren Neo Every I mean, digital transformation existed already. But then with the pandemic, it just fast-tracked everything, and it quickly outpaced a lot of the rest of the global region in Asia Pacific. And so I think that there is a greater sense of importance that people are starting to see in Asia Pacific, they're taking it very, very seriously. And the survey has even told us that many companies in Asia Pacific are committed, and they want to continue to increase investment in customer engagement, vis-a-vis the other regions.
[06:50] Shahin Hoda That's fascinating. With all this, right, so I want to dig a little bit deeper into the technology aspect of this. How does that come into place, especially with customer engagement? Where do you see the technology fit and technology piece fitting into the spectrum of customer engagement? Because we're talking about digital transformation and I feel like that is becoming, you know, obviously, technology was a big part of it. And everybody's been talking about it, but specifically with customer engagement, what are your thoughts on that?
[07:22] Su-Ren Neo I think that technology is the key enabler and platform to level the playing field for businesses, you know. a light, right. So it gives businesses this edge. So whether they are digital first startup companies, you know, like moving into this future and disrupting their marketplace, or to legacy companies who essentially have legacy systems that they need to then transform to future proof and compete with all these disruptors that you're starting to see, right in our marketplace. And technology is really the platform that really democratises how small, medium, large enterprises can all play the same game.
[08:09] Su-Ren Neo I think with all these advances in communication tools, you know, and data processing platforms, right, using machine learning and AI, it just automatically launches us into a whole new era of what customer engagement can be, right? And what's important, I think the holy grail towards this is enabling that personalisation at scale. And it's not something that only a big conglomerate enterprise company can do and invest in and achieve.
[08:39] Su-Ren Neo But it's right down to the level of even a small company, or small medium enterprise or startup is able to then position themselves to be ahead of the game, and play in that same field with the big guys. So I think technology has opened up a completely new world for the world of marketing and customer engagement. And it's all about the channels. It's not just about the channels, it goes beyond that. It goes down to data processing. It's all the data that you amass and have the ability to translate into contextual awareness with ease, you know. That is really truly the huge linchpin in this game.
[09:25] Shahin Hoda That's so fascinating. I want to ask you, what do you kind of see as the future of customer engagement? Because obviously Twilio is extremely active in space. I mean, especially with some of the acquisitions as well, some of the big ones like SendGrid and, and Segment just that, that moat around Twilio has become even stronger. And with the, we also talked about the population where in kind of 2030, we're going to have a completely different in the region at least completely different middle class, what do you see happening to customer engagement in the next five to 10 years?
[10:07] Su-Ren Neo You know, I think what's important, when we start to think about the future of what customer engagement is, is to first start to think about, alright, so what is going to be the expectations of our customers in the future? Like what to them is expected to be good customer experience with the companies or the brands that they have interacted or they interact with, right? And so first, we start to think about the fact that customers want to be able to be engaged at the right channels, at the right time, in the way that they like, right? And that will also include like, I don't want to wait on a call for somebody to pick up the phone, I want self gratification, instant service, self service accessed in real time.
[10:56] Su-Ren Neo To be able to get what I want, conversing what I need, and to handle whatever that needs to be done. And they also want the ability to ensure that, you know, when I come to you, right, you know, me. I'm not going to spend another 10 minutes explaining to you what the problem that I have is, but the fact that I've already reached out to you, I've surfaced this question, and I've surfaced this need, and somebody else picks up and is able to address it, and knows my issues, knows me, knows who I am, and is able to provide that empathetic communication that is personalised back to me.
[11:30] Su-Ren Neo And then the other thing is, you know, like, it's all about building that value and trust with customers. And that's something that's always going to be important to us, right? So as we start to move into that first party DataWolf, for example. You know, like, you didn't need to show me as a customer that I am able to trust you, and that you show value back to me in it give me good reasons why I should interact with you give you my data, you know, and that I trust that you're gonna respect me in how you manage my data, as you manage all of that. And so I think that's what customers are going to start to expect, you know, that new level.
[12:12] Su-Ren Neo And so what does this mean for businesses, right? Then it means that, to be able to then strive towards that future, businesses have to think about the bones that they're going to be building with your platform to be able to serve that up. Because that doesn't happen by itself. We would love that magic wand, but it doesn't quite exist. And so you've got to build towards that. And so businesses would need to think about, okay, how do I best customise to what my business needs and my customers because one size really doesn't fit all.
[12:46] Su-Ren Neo And that your system is integrated well into a CRM, a communication channel into your data platform, so that you have that I know you, my customer, and what your needs are. The ability to be in place. And also, you know, that you need to empower your teams, right? Let's not forget that you have to empower your frontline teams, especially to be able to have access to this personalised context, you know, from a customer support to sales and marketing team so that they can work that channel and really deliver that experience. And I think what's really exciting for Twilio is, you know, Twilio's, you know, as we start to think about what that future of customer engagement is, the way that we think about technology is how we then give ourselves with this data-first approach.
[13:37] Su-Ren Neo You know, we call this the Twilio-customer engagement platform, right? It's an overall data first approach, first beginning from the foundational level of, you know, a customer data platform, right, our CDP. And for personalisation, so which is also the reason like what you brought up about acquisition of Segment and, and the ability to then leverage Segments, for example, to bring all that data together across the business silos, you know, from CRM to data warehousing, to information, to logistics, to to then serve up a web, and mobile touchpoints and E-commerce, etc. So everything is just clean, actionable, personalised to the customer, but yet attainable, feasible, and empowering to your own team to deliver.
[14:25] Shahin Hoda It sounds like it's going to be a lot smoother in the future than it is now. And there's gonna be a lot less hoops that I have to jump over in order to get something done. Who do you think is doing a really awesome job right now? And, you know, I don't think it needs to be B2B or B2C. I think B2B companies learn a lot from B2C. But who are some of the companies that you see doing some really cool stuff right now in the market?
[14:57] Su-Ren Neo You know, I can think of many great examples. I think, what's so interesting about the pandemic is that it's also unleashed a whole new world for different companies, you know, different types of different levels of urgency to really rethink how they do this. But I think from a global level, right, I, immediately what comes to my mind are companies like Amazon and Netflix, writing, they have set a really gold standard to how this gets served up at huge enterprise global scale.
[15:29] Su-Ren Neo So for example, like, you know, I have, I have three Amazon accounts, right? One for Singapore, and for the US, and actually went for Australia. And it's fascinating, because every time I go to my Amazon homepage it is different from maybe yours, Shahin. And the same goes to Netflix. I, you know, like all the recommendations that I have, based on my preferences is different from even what my husband has at home, even though we have the same account, but we're different users. And everything is also done in this huge, you know, real time manner and all that.
[15:59] Su-Ren Neo And then it's like, as I mentioned to you, when I think about how organisations have responded to the pandemic, because I think that was a huge, huge wake up call about a new reality that is not going away. And I think about regional companies like Electrolux, for example, right? We talked about those legacy businesses who are really looking at changing the way that they work. And I remember, you know, in, in speaking with our, you know, Electrolux, who actually is a Twilio customer, you know, when the pandemic and lockdowns hit, and it completely meant that there are no contact center agents who can serve any customer, you know, because they can't go into the office and do their work.
[16:45] Su-Ren Neo So that causes huge disruption to not only the business, but also to the customer experience, right? And so I think they, what they did was they spun around really quickly and decisively, they worked on building a completely cloud based set up with Twilio flex contact center, you know, to allow their agents and their contact centers in Thailand and Vietnam and Malaysia and New Zealand and Australia to just spin around and work from home. And yet have all the necessary and relevant customer information from one single dashboard. You know, like everything happens quickly.
[17:21] Su-Ren Neo And I thought that was such a phenomenal way that, you know, a good case of right decisive action, and speed. Another organisation that I thought about is not a company, but really an organisation. But to me, I think it's important because, you know, it's all about the community. And that's Lifeline in Australia. So they're a nonprofit organization. And with, you know, it's been a difficult time for many of us in the world over the last couple of years. And I think one of the things that Lifeline Australia did was, you know, with all the lockdowns and shutdowns that have happened, they were not able to have volunteers support other people when they call in and seek help.
[18:05] Su-Ren Neo And so I think, a really meaningful way that, for example, the Twilio technology was used to circumvent that was really was working with them and helping them to have that cloud-based contact center contact center solution that just allows for all these volunteers to then work safely from home and continue to provide that essential 24-hour crisis support and helpline to, to help people who are suicidal, right? And I think that if those were the things that are meaningful, and that matter, right? Businesses aside, these are the moments that truly matter to the people when they need it. So those are some of the great examples, tons of other great examples, but you know, here are just a couple.
[18:50] Shahin Hoda Those are some of those examples, even though now we take them for granted. Now we take, you know, of course, they're going to be working from home. Of course there. That's the infrastructure and their agents should be working from home. And now two years in, you know, we're like that's, it is the new norm, quote, unquote, for those who are hearing this. But it is, it was I'm sure, and it's still a fascinating feat to to get to that point and making sure to operate smoothly.
[19:19] Shahin Hoda I mean, some of these businesses have been operating on their current business models for such a long time. And it's a well oiled machine. And it's, you know, it's been perfected over time, and having to operate all of that and completely switch to a new model, and making sure that it still operates so smoothly, in such a short period of time is fascinating. What are some of the, this is the last question I want to ask on customer engagement. What are some of the mistakes that you see marketers and companies make when it comes to customer engagement?
[19:51] Su-Ren Neo This is a great, great question. And it's actually one that I think about because I'm like okay, let's make sure we try to avoid all of this. I think mistake number one is forgetting to be customer-centric. You know, sometimes it's marketers or salespeople or companies, right, we're so busy trying to pitch our wares that we lose sight of the problems that our customers need to solve. You know, all the pain points that they need to get over, you know, and also how they want to be communicated. And also to think about what helps them get ahead of their game, right?
[20:27] Su-Ren Neo So I think that it is always critical for us to remember to wear those customer's shoes, and be extremely insightful in thinking with them about ways to add value, right? How do we then help them to get better? How do we bring more meaningful impact with their customers, right? And serve that up? And so being customer-centric is key. The next one that I can think of is, I mean, it's to your point, too, right? Like, sometimes businesses, they are so ingrained in the way that they work that, you know, when the huge disruption hits and what happens, right?
[21:01] Su-Ren Neo So I think mistake number two, I would say, would be not planning for the future. And, you know, cuz digital transformation was already here before, but it never really accelerated, because there is a bit of that complacency prior to the pandemic, that yeah, we know what's important and everything, but let's work its way, you know, let's, we'll get there, we'll get there. And so there is not enough of that, like planning for future proof. So I think with that pandemic, it's evident that we have to conduct our business in a different way. This huge change is here to stay, it's not temporary, it did not last a month, or two or year, right?
[21:41] Su-Ren Neo It's gone on for quite a fair bit of time. So it is now the new reality. And so planning for the future, and investing to ensure that you are ahead of the game, you are able to diversify your risk, and more importantly, to get ahead of your competition by differentiating. And all this is through technology as the enabler. And of course, the investment that goes along with the mandate, or we need to do this. Third big mistake is ignoring the gift of data. Data is king. But what is key about data is you know, you can have, you can have lots and lots of data.
[22:20] Su-Ren Neo But if you can't make sense of it all, then it's not really very useful at all, right? And so I think what's also important is being able to not only have the right data, be respectful of the data, but also how you make sense of it, and use that in contextual knowledge to engage with your customer, to learn better about them. And it's all about adding greater value to this relationship. Next mistake, I think, would be being afraid to be bold, and innovate.
[22:51] Shahin Hoda That's a good one.
[22:53] Su-Ren Neo You know, applying customer-centricity, like what we talked about, and then the powerful context of data and then but then, how do you make sense of it all and get ahead of the game, right? So that's where it comes with innovation? How do you then start to think about applying all that and, and finding new ways to draw those customer insights and find new solutions? Personally, to me, what is extremely important in this for organisations to remember is, essentially, you need to also create a safe culture within your company to foster the spirit of innovation. And I think sometimes, you know, as companies or leadership, we sometimes lose sight of that, right?
[23:35] Su-Ren Neo Innovation doesn't come with a button. Innovation comes from your people. And being able to create that safe culture so that it fosters the ability to take calculated risks. And making people feel that it is safe to innovate. You will give them the space, you give them the time you give them the empowerment to be able to really foster this. And this all starts from the top, and it cascades all the way down to how you work, right? So for example, at Twilio, in my team we have, we always, you know, set ourselves this challenge every year about finding new ideas that we have not done before.
[24:19] Su-Ren Neo We always ask ourselves this question like okay, what is it that we have not done before that we can try to do, right? And then we spin up ideas and plans, and think about that. And so for example, like last year, one thing that we decided to do was, you know, we wanted a different way to showcase our technology. And we partnered with the one championship team. And you know, what we did with them was we worked to showcase the Twilio technology in a feature by our CEO, Jeff Lawson in a reality TV program called The Apprentice, one Championship Edition. It was a really fun project to work on.
[24:56] Su-Ren Neo It was completely new. We've never done it before. Neither have the one team but We say, Alright, let's try this out and we will try to be bold in doing this. It aired on cable in terrestrial TV and over like 10 countries, 10 plus countries in Asia, won an award and is now on Netflix, rolling out to over 150 countries globally. So like, no, that's not the spirit of this innovation as being bold. Okay, so the last mistake, I think that companies make is forgetting to be an authentic and responsible brand. You know, as companies, as much as it is important to be able to show shareholder value.
[24:35] Su-Ren Neo It's also important to be able to place input, you know, to to recognise and remember that how you show up as a brand is key, you know. Are you authentic? What are your values? And are you responsible economically and socially? So, you know, sometimes we forget that customers are a part of your community. And they watch you and they decide if they want to trust you. And that trust would then serve into engagement, you know, in terms of like, would you, would they feel good if they choose to interact with you versus your competition? So, those are the five mistakes that I think we should try to avoid.
[26:13] Shahin Hoda Yeah, those are some really solid, solid advice. And I love you pointing them out the way you did. I think some of the ones that you talked about really resonated with me as well, in terms of being authentic in terms of being bold. And you know, it's, I think it's a super complete list that, that I think we should even turn it into a blog. And we might do that, Su-Ren.
[26:39] Shahin Hoda And but no, I really, really appreciate that. Su-Ren, and before we wrap up the podcast, there are a couple of rapid fire questions I want to ask you. And I want to go through these with you and get your feedback on these as well. So the first thing I want to ask you is, what is one resource, this could be a book, this could be a podcast, a blog, whatever it is, that has had a really big impact on you both personally and professionally. Does anything come to mind?
[26:48] Su-Ren Neo I think what comes to mind, first and foremost is the book by Brene Brown called Rising Strong. I'm not sure if you're familiar. Brene Brown is a researcher and a professor and lecturer. She's very much known for her research on shame and vulnerability. I think that you know, what's important for me to write strongly is embracing fear and failure, right?
[27:32] Su-Ren Neo We talked about innovation, being bold and trying new things and encouraging and creating a safe culture. I think what was fundamentally important as I read this book was, you know, how do you embrace it because sometimes you will win, sometimes you will lose. Sometimes you crash, and sometimes you burn but sometimes you succeed. So how do you then start to create those safe cultures for yourself for your teams, to be able to embrace the unknown?
[27:58] Shahin Hoda I love it. Okay, question number two. If you could only give one advice to marketers, B2B marketers, especially around customer engagement, what would it be?
[28:11] Su-Ren Neo I think that the advice I would give is, on customer engagement specifically, is, you know, always remember to be customer centric. Customer centricity is going to be key in how we serve up customer engagement, or how you want to build relationships with customers. And always remember to harness the power of data.
[28:32] Shahin Hoda Data, data, data, love it. Question number three is, who are some of the influencers that you follow in the sales and marketing space?
[28:41] Su-Ren Neo I have a few influencers or you know, people that I follow in general and read and listen to in general. So Guy Kawasaki is one. He is an American marketing specialist, author, and venture capitalist. He also was actually on one of our events, at Twilio, with our CEO some months back and gave great insights about putting customers first to drive growth. And I also listened to a podcast called Design Matters by Debbie Millman. She speaks to the world's most creative people.
[29:12] Su-Ren Neo And I find it fascinating to hear from people like Pete Souza, Simon Sinek, Amy Webb and all that, through that the people that I follow, maybe not so much of marketing sales space, but like Adam Grant is one, you know, podcast host of Work Life, you know, I'm a big fan of podcasts. So that's one and Angela Duckworth. I think that she's the writer of Grit. And she's also the founder of the Character Lab. You know, that teachers about how kids can thrive, you know, building grids and all that so, so yeah, those are a few people that I do follow.
[29:48] Shahin Hoda That's a great list. I love that list. Alright, last thing. Last thing I want to ask is, what's something that excites you about B2B today?
[29:56] Su-Ren Neo I've been in marketing for about two decades, and it has never been a dull moment at all. And I just love thriving and the ability to just continuously learn and innovate. But what makes me really excited about B2B today, for example, is the fact that technology is so liberating. You know, like the progress of martech, data, digital platforms has opened completely new worlds for marketers.
[29:56] Su-Ren Neo And, you know, there's so many other things that we've aspired to before, but are now actually finally becoming attainable at scale., right? You know, like, we want to find the least painful way to do some things. So I think the ability to be able to just do all that, and really tap into new ideas and to apply into marketing programs like ABM and digital marketing areas, with all that insight to engage customers as individuals is very, very exciting.
[30:52] Shahin Hoda Got it. Yeah, I totally agree with you, I think the variety in the B2B space and, and also the complexity in some cases of, of what's there makes it, keeps you on your toes, and makes things exciting. Su-Ren, this has been an amazing conversation. You've shared so many insights, and I've really enjoyed our chat around customer engagement and also the rapid fire questions, that were solid answers. So I'm sure a lot of listeners are gonna be enjoying it as well. And I just want to say thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
[31:29] Su-Ren Neo All right. Great to be here. Thank you.
[21:34] Neil Berry Yeah, no problem. It’s good to be on. Thanks for having me.