Axiata Digital's Manzur Rahman: When management refuses to buy into your idea

Companies with greater digital maturity are associated with better financial performance. According to a study by Deloitte Insights conducted last November, the higher-maturity companies surveyed were about three times more likely than lower-maturity companies to report annual net revenue growth and net profit margins significantly above their industry average.

Deloitte Insights defined digital maturity as the extent to which digital transformation has delivered positive business impact, not necessarily positive financial impact. It added that the superior financial performance resulting from higher digital maturity is a consequence of - not equivalent to - the business impact on which its definition is based. The company surveyed US-based executives from organisations with a global headcount of 500 or more and that earned at least US$250 million in annual revenue.

While marketers recognise the importance of digital transformation and this journey has been accelerated by COVID-19, it is a known challenge that the marketing and management teams speak a different language. Manzur Rahman, director marketing, customer experience and innovation at Aspirasi, a digital financial services brand under Axiata Digital in Malaysia, told A+M in an interview that when the team is unable to get management buy-in for a proposal, there is no harm to carry out digital transformation at a smaller scale and show it to the management with results.

Another important factor would also be to reassure management that the digital change will carry the brand forward, rather than erasing and replacing it. Citing a personal experience as an example, Manzur said when he began putting his marketing team on a digital project management solution named Trello, the objective was to ensure the team stays organised, manage and track projects, and improve the team's dynamic. 

"Initially, our management did not fully understand how Trello worked. However, after they saw us embracing it and delivered productive results, they were willing to give it a try. Now, we have extended the usage to our colleagues from another team with management’s approval," Manzur explained.

According to him, the lesson learnt is that the marketing team needs to ensure management will understand the benefits and business objectives of their proposal. "Marketing and sales are brilliantly measurable, hence making this a prime opportunity for fact-based case for digital," he added.

In the case of Aspirasi, the management bought in to the proposal on Trello because the end goal is to make things easier and more productive for the whole team. "Similarly, when you have a plan to digitalise your business, your end goal is also to ensure the digital platform or solutions are created, will benefit your customers," he added.

Axiata Digital is the digital services arm of Axiata Group with four digital brands - Aspirasi, ADA, Boost and Apigate. Technology is at the core of everything it does, Manzur said, from day-to-day management right down to enhancing its customer experience. "This is according to what our CEO Mohd Khairil Abdullah has shared: 'How we can use technology to improve someone’s life tomorrow?’" he added.

He explained that during the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia, everyone within the company were as productive, if not more during this time, because they were embracing technology effectively. Employees were able to seamlessly cope with the change because they have already adapted to digital tools such as Trello, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. According to Manzur, such tools help minimise confusion around project assignments as teams can organise tasks and track progress effectively.

"Nobody should be afraid to invest in technology and using AI is not scary. I believe most people are scared about what they do not know. So, equip yourself with knowledge on the latest technologies so that you will know how to use it effectively for business success. Technology is scalable in many ways and this is the game changer to grow your business," he said.

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Lingering misconceptions

A common misconception companies in Malaysia have is that their customers will return to them once the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) lifts, Manzur said. Either that or they think the costs for digital transformation are too high or question if it is necessary. He added that there are two camps of thought- those that have not gone into digital at all and those that think they have embraced digital transformation adequately and do not require additional digital tools.

"The point is that even after the COVID-19 pandemic goes away, the new normal of embracing technology is here to stay and businesses that are not on the digital transformation bandwagon need to start jumping on it or risk being left behind," he said.

Manzur also added that many companies assume that digital only means using the "technology". However, digital transformation is not as simple as applying the right digital tools for the company, but also about creating an engaging digital journey for consumers.

"Technology works as the backbone of any digital experience and businesses may require some time and investment to set this up. Due to the fear of investment, some companies may have not yet started leveraging new technologies," he said. However, he said that the benefits of leveraging the new technologies will outweigh the cost and companies will reap the benefits such as increased online presence, better customer engagement and sales.

Furthermore, companies will need to consider the quality of all consumers’ encounters with a company product, services, brands, and all these are happening on the digital interface - websites and online support. Hence, a successful digital experience should be adaptable to customers’ needs and wants, as customers are getting more demanding as they are expecting real-time responses from businesses they interact with.

Remaining agile and adaptable

To retain customers in these challenging times, it is understood that marketers have to remain agile and adapatable to the ever-changing needs of their customers and rethink their digital strategies. When it comes to customer behaviour, Manzur said the MCO has resulted in customers becoming even more connected, and with high expectations from businesses they interact with to respond to and stay a step ahead of their growing needs.

"To remain competitive, companies will need to critically look as utilising the right online tools to ensure customers enjoy a seamless experience online. That being said, not all companies are as adaptable to changes compared to others, due to certain limitation like cost, digital savviness and overall understanding of the digital landscape," Manzur explained. That said, the companies would need to start moving towards becoming more digital if they aim to stay competitive in the local market.

On the point about adapting to the ever changing needs of consumers, Manzur said when the MCO came into effect, Aspirasi knew that its range of customers, mainly micro SMEs (MSMEs), would be struggling to cope as they are not allowed to open their businesses.

When the Axiata COVID-19 assistance programme launched, Aspirasi supported the programme via Aspirasi Assist, which offered quick and simple micro-financing to help MSMEs gain financial support during this challenging period. Initially limited to customers within the Axiata ecosystem including Boost and Celcom, Manzur said it saw the need to ensure any MSMEs could receive support.

"To respond to this dire need, we leveraged emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and robotic process automation to ensure any MSME in the market could apply for and receive financing support from Aspirasi Assist," he said. Planning and execution took two weeks in total and it was able to achieve this by being "being incredibly agile, adaptable and responsive to the changing needs of [its] base of customers", Manzur explained.

To maintain consumer trust and loyalty in these challenging times, it is even more important for brands to be flexible and forward-thinking, Manzur said. One way for companies to future-proof themselves is to lead with compassion, Manzur said. He added that amidst the uncertainty of a pandemic, emotions are heightened, especially on the customer service side and it is crucial to prioritise compassion. "Always engage as a human being first, and then as a business professional," he said.

Another way is to be proactive instead of reactive. Instead of playing guessing games with consumers, companies should proactively meet their evolving needs before consumers bring it up. "Furthermore, the digital footprint of a company is crucial to your business. It helps to paint the picture of who you are online - any reviews, comments, sales record that are available online will become part of your business identity," he said.

Hence at Aspirasi, Manzur said it ensured that its largest real estate - the website - is easy to navigate, offers visitors all the information they require at their fingertips and is visually appealing. "We also ensure alignment between what we say online and offline to limit any confusion with customers on company or product updates," he added.

Join us on a three-week journey at Digital Marketing Asia 2020 as we delve into the realm of digital transformation, data and analytics, and mobile and eCommerce from 10 to 26 November. Sign up for early bird tickets here!

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