AT&T Business: Customer experience and digital transformation (CxOTalk interview)

Learn how the Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Business drives CX with organizational change at this huge company with $37 billion in revenue. He also talks about 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Customer experience and digital transformation live at the intersection of technology, corporate culture, and organizational change. Although technology and data help us understand customers and create personalized experiences, taking advantage of these capabilities presents a harder challenge.

For established organizations, the keys to creating great customer experiences are culture, incentives, mindset, and process. In other words, getting everyone -- from frontline employees to senior managers -- on the same page.


Telecom provider AT&T Business is doing this at scale. With $37 billion in revenue and serving 3 million business customers, this large company faces a market that is undergoing rapid change. From shifting customer expectations to new technologies such as 5G and IoT, the world around AT&T is evolving.

To learn how this huge company manages business change and customer experience, I spoke with the President and Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Business, Mo Katibeh, on episode 337 of the CxOTalk series of conversations with the world's top business and technology leaders.

Mo Katibeh and I discussed a range of topics, including:

  • The CMO role at AT&T business
  • Changes in the telecom industry and implications for AT&T
  • Digital transformation
  • Customer experience and business strategy
  • How to drive change through a large organization
  • What is 5G and why it is important
  • Innovation and customer outcomes
  • Digital transformation and culture
  • Customer experience and culture change

Watch the entire conversation in the video embedded above, read the complete transcript, and check out edited excerpts below. You can also download and listen to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play.

As CMO, what does your role include?

Mo Katibeh: Chief marketer at AT&T means the product teams work for me, so the people who come up with the products we sell to our business customers, as well as what we call channel marketing, [meaning] how do we take those products and really craft them into solutions that work for each of our segments and each of our channels?

Many businesses out there, about 15 million in the United States, small, medium, large, call centers, direct sellers, et cetera, so really thinking through, how do we bring this to life? How do we create solutions for each one of those spaces? As well as then all of the traditional marketing functions like advertising and branding.

It's unusual for product development to report to marketing. I assume the goal is linking customer needs more tightly to product design?

Mo Katibeh: That's exactly right. When we talk about the chief marketing officer at AT&T Business, it's the old definition of CMO, the four Ps. It's the product, the place, promotion, and price. I'm very fortunate to be able to do all of those things.

Then, to your point, the customers are at the heart of it. We spend a lot of time each year really talking to customers across each one of our segments looking at what's happening across the different industries that we're serving to make sure that, as we're developing new products, as we're enhancing our existing products, we're really meeting the needs of our customers and our markets.

How has digital transformation changed marketing?

Mo Katibeh: Every single industry is in the middle of a digital transformation. It's a bit of a buzzword, but there are just amazing new technologies that are coming to bear that allow business customers to think through, "How do I continue improving my operations? How do I drive new revenue? How do I create new experiences for my employees and my new customers?" blurring the physical and the digital. It's all driven by technology.

As a marketeer, the way that we've thought about this, every industry is really in a different place, and so we need to make sure that we're able to come to the market, talk to our customers, using language and bringing them solutions that matter to them. A couple of years ago, we fundamentally reorganized both of our marketing teams, as well as our sales teams, to focus on key industries: retail, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, [and] the public space.

We trained all of our folks on what was happening in each one of those industries and brought our products and solutions to them, to meet the digital transformation needs of each of those verticals of each one of those industries.

What's the link between digital transformation and customer experience?

Mo Katibeh: You have to become a trusted expert. As a salesperson, as a marketeer, when a business customer is about this new technology or trying to solve an operational problem, you have to have a relationship. You have to be seen as a trusted advisor, both for their company but also as an industry.

By making this pivot, this shift, and thinking through, "How do we bring both our core products inside of AT&T Business, as well as best-of-breed third-party solutions to drive outcomes on behalf of those customers?" we're able to do very very interesting things. A good example of that might be in retail.

Our bread and butter has been core connectivity, whether that's IP broadband, dedicated Internet, Ethernet, MPLS. Now, when we go and talk to a retail customer, not only are we bringing that connectivity solution, but we also talk to them about their unified communications needs. How are you promoting collaboration both with your customers as well as your employees internally? How are you thinking about getting your data into your cloud instances, secure connectivity into the cloud? How are you thinking about disaster recovery for your cloud? Are you in one cloud? Are you in multiple: public and private? How are you thinking about wrapping all of this in cyber security, your franchise locations, your network, your cloud? How are you thinking about IoT to bring new innovations and create new experiences for your customers, drive new revenue?

By taking this industry-specific approach, we're able to go to large, medium, and small retail customers, not just talk to them about one thing, but talk to them about an entire solution that can help them in their business, in their desire to stay competitive to drive for growth.

The customer experience, the relationships that you have with customers, are just paramount. They're core to what any business is doing in order to make sure that they're keeping their customers as well as growing it.

Why is 5G so important?

Mo Katibeh: I love 5G. I fundamentally believe that 5G, coupled with technologies that are coming to life at the same time as 5G, like edge computing, like IoT, like machine learning and AI, will fundamentally transform our society over the next ten years.

Before I look forward, let me just take a minute and look back. I mentioned a few minutes, I've got two young kids. I've got an eight-year-old son.

A couple of months ago, I was chatting with him. He was playing on his smartphone. It was an iPhone, and he commented on how much he loved it and what an amazing device it was. I told him, "Hey, did you know that the first time that the iPhone came out was just 11 years ago?" All right, it was a few months ago.

He was all shocked. He looked at me, and he was like, "What did you watch your videos on? What did you play your games on when you were a kid if you didn't have an iPhone?"

It made me step back and think [about] the things that have come out in the last ten years. LTE allowed for the mobilization of the American worker. It created the application ecosystem. It created the gig economy, all these things that we just kind of take for granted and they're part of our everyday lives. Arguably, most people wouldn't have been able to imagine those things ten years ago.

When you kind of play that forward and you think about the next ten years, my crystal ball is as good as anyone. I wouldn't pretend to know every single innovation that's going to come out from this technology. But, I do know it will be extraordinary.

With 5G, we're going to get into the sub-20 millisecond range and, in many cases, sub-10 millisecond. Why this matters is, the way that our brains work, scientists believe that we process reality at about eight, nine, ten milliseconds. Once you have a network that is able to deliver latency at that level, it's effectively at the same speed, at the same latency at which you're processing the world around you. The innovation that can come from that will be unparalleled.

The other key thing that will fundamentally change is, when you think about wi-fi today, you can connect hundreds of things to that. In LTE, you get into the thousands of things per square mile. With 5G, you get into the millions of things. Again, when we think about IoT going from millions of connections today, hundreds of millions of connections, most forecasters believe that will go into the billions. It will be driven by the advent and the deployment of the 5G networks.

How will 5G change society?

Mo Katibeh: These things come over time, but I'll give you one example. Today, on the AT&T network, we have, at the end of the fourth quarter of '18, 51 million connected devices. By far the most connected devices on any network in the United States and, for the last couple of quarters before the end of the year, we were averaging about one million new connected things every single month. It's extraordinary.Already, we see amazing use cases come out of that.

As an example, the first connected prosthetic limb is on the AT&T network. This means that medical professionals can now, with appropriate consent from people with prosthetic limbs that are using this technology, collect data. Instead of just being able to see how someone is using it in the clinical environment, they can get significantly more data on how it's being used in everyday life. Learn from that, which will then help create the next generation of prosthetic limbs.

Connected assets. Red Bull is connecting up to one million coolers all around the world on the AT&T network using our IoT devices. This allows them to know, "Hey, where is my cooler? Did someone pick it up and walk off with it?" It lets them know when the door to the cooler is opened, so that they can improve their logistical supply chain on, "When do I need to go refill that cooler with Red Bull?" It allows them to monitor the temperature inside of it. It's very important to them that people are buying their drink at the right temperature, that it's kept constant.

Another one is a Samsung SmartThings. It's a one-inch white square. You can put it on anything, in anything, and it'll let you know where it is every 10 minutes, every 15 minutes, every hour, or kind of as you pull the data.

Well, back to 5G and IoT. My son, again, he's eight. He likes to ride his bicycle, but he's kind of nervous about going around the neighborhood, so I've been taking this connected SmartThings, and I give it to him to put in his pocket. Then he rides around the neighborhood. I can literally, in real time today, monitor him on my phone.

We're already working with bicycle manufacturers to put the same technology inside of the bicycle. Instead of needing a separate thing, the bicycle will be tracked.

Over the course of the coming years, we're already deploying smart cities, smart traffic lights, connectivity inside of vehicles. You will have this shift of autonomous vehicles that talk to the stoplights that talk to the bicycles and truly drive a connected society that will fundamentally change the way we live.

Pick a number of years, whether it's five years, eight years, or ten years from now. That will be the new norm. People will wonder, "Oh, how did I ever live without this in the past?" It's all being enabled by 5G. That's just one example.

Give us more examples?

Mo Katibeh: We're working with the leading hospice provider in America, a company called VITAS. We're doing some 5G trials with them starting in California. It started earlier this year.

VITAS helps hospice patients, people who are approaching the end of life. It's an incredibly human moment. It's something that all of us will go through with friends, with family, with ourselves. As you're approaching that point in your life, you want to have the best possible experience you can.

What VITAS does is pain mitigation, pain management, whether that's in a hospital location or a patient's home. They wanted to understand how could 5G be used to help the people who are going through that time in their lives.

One of the interesting findings was, you can shift away from using opioids if you're able to use augmented reality and virtual reality as an alternative to the opioid. The trials we're doing with them is things like, can you use VR to help someone go back to the place that they grew up? Can you help them go on an experience that they never had, like go to Peru and Machu Picchu or visit the Eiffel Tower?

Something as simple as virtually having dinner with your family if you're in a location, in a bed, or at home and you're eating but, using VR, you're able to have dinner with your family who is hundreds or thousands of miles away, seeing your children and your grandchildren. This is an amazing, human outcome, but it's driven through 5G and businesses. Working with businesses every single day, part of what we do, what we love, and what we're humbled by is thinking through how the world will change by using the technology that we're bringing to the market.

How you drive customer experience through the AT&T Business organization?

Mo Katibeh: It becomes a question of, how can you apply both the cultural things that we've talked about, engaging your employees to be part of that journey? Your employees have the best ideas on how to improve the customer experience.

I talk to our frontline sellers regularly. Every time I travel, I meet with our frontline sellers. I meet with our frontline operational people on where do you see are the opportunities for us to lean in and help you and then make investments to improve the experience for you and the end customer?

Then, create a culture where people love to come to work. Ask the questions, whether it's an anonymous survey. Create culture committees where people can gather up information from the teams that they work on. Then listen to them and then take action; communicate out the actions that you've taken to keep improving that culture. Your employees are priority number one who in turn, drive the end customer experience. If your people are happy, all the studies show your revenue will be higher. Your end customers' experience and their satisfaction are going to be higher. It's a no-brainer. 

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