Avis Budget: Marketing directors must decide if they want to save the customer or their career

Avis chief commerical officer Troy Warfield has said the role of marketing in championing the customer within an organisation is vital, particularly in a digitally led world where customers are getting what they want, when they want it. However, he believes we are getting to a point where marketing directors will have to choose between “saving the customer or their careers”.

He posed the argument at the Oystercatchers’ Club event, titled ‘Customer at the Heart of Business', held in London last night (19 May).

“You have a chief executive and finance director and they’ll talk about what is right and what looks after the bottom line. And it’s your job to work out if you want to save your career or the customer,” he said. “Personally, at times, depending on how strong you feel about your career versus how vulnerable you feel you might answer that differently.”

Exemplifying the point, he explained that Avis – a vehicle rental company – conducted a survey of 5,000 customers and took that data to segment its customers to decipher what each wanted from the brand. One such group was the 'motor enthusiast' who complained that Avis didn’t have a particularly extensive range of cars.

“So we expanded our fleet,” said Warfield. “From an operation point of view, that might be an inefficiency. But marketing promotes what the customer wants and you’ve got to keep fighting that all the way along.”

He went on to add that the “inner turmoil” felt by CEOs between doing what’s right for the customer and what’s right for shareholders is heightened by quarterly deliverables.

“The world is littered with CEOs who didn’t deliver on quarterlies. The best businesses put the customer at the heart which drives growth and strong quarterlies are the result of that…but it does take the bravery for someone to [make that first step].”

He was joined on the panel by Cilla Snowball, chief executive of the AMVBBDO network. She said that the problem lies with bosses who say they put customers at the heart of the business, and those that go on to actually do it.

“The best in the field say and do it. They never stop talking about the customer –whether it’s the CEO or marketing manager they say customer in every sentence, every presentation, every media interview. They are obsessive about simplifying and making things easier for the customer,” she said.

The panel – which also included Telefonica’s UK sales director Feilim Mackle and Decoded co-founder Kathryn Parsons – went on to discuss the role data now plays in deciphering the needs of the customer. It proved vital for all four businesses, with Mackle revealing it has seen a 100 per cent increase in its data usage year on year. “It’s like the M1 running on double the amount of traffic,” he said.

Echoing comments made by Snowball, Mackle later suggested that the complexity of joining up these data points and listening to consumers across an ever increasing myriad of channels is challenging.

“We live in a very complex, noisy busy world and the job of the CEO is to work out what matters most and to leave no stone unturned. But they can get distracted and don’t follow through,” he said.

At a previous Oystercatchers event United Biscuits and Barclays chiefs clashed over whether CMOs should be in the boardroom at all.

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