Victor Iancu leads the Business and Service Design practice of KPMG in Romania and Moldova. He is a serious UX design and strategy guru, a seasoned business strategist, and an advisory leader supporting private and public sector clients in an emerging economy for almost 20 years.
He combines strategy tools, business & economic research with design thinking to successfully help clients identify new business opportunities, create and capture new sources of value and create new business models and ventures.
I'm really keen to understand how you got into this role, as a partner at KPMG advising customers on user experience and strategy. How did you get there?
I started my career in an economic research Institute where basically I started studying innovation from a theoretical point of view. And that was the moment when I realized I liked it so much.
After two years in research, I wanted to put into practice a lot of the things that I was discovering and that's how I got into consulting. And, once I managed to get into consulting and joined KPMG, I just followed this passion, and build a business case within the organization. And here we are.
After nine years at KPMG, working so closely with banks, and financial services, what is the best part of your day? What gets you super excited?
What I like and what keeps me going every day is the fact that I get to do a very interesting type of job: discovering and experimenting. And I'm quite grateful to have managers who allowed me to experiment.
This is uncommon in business because experimentation also means failing. And you need that psychological safety put in place in order to keep things moving.
The fact that we work with clients that want to change, want to innovate gives us that intellectual trigger and push to be at our best every day. And actually, that's exciting! Because every time you go into a conversation, you understand a challenge, you go into that exploration, discovery mode.
The freedom to discover gives you a world of possibilities. How do you tackle that need to explore versus securing results in the enterprise space?
It is fun! As you can imagine, it's not always a clear path. Usually, when you start a project, you need to be really comfortable with not understanding everything, not knowing what's coming. And this can be tiresome for someone who's not very used to it. But as you embrace it, it becomes a professional lifestyle.
In the business world, executives want everything to be predictable and they will be asking you "okay, what's coming next, what are we going to get out of this?". And when you say " let's work together, and see how this evolves", you can see that's not the answer that they were expecting. But it's also a sort of educational role that we have.
It's very understandable that executives want results. They want to know what's going to happen, but innovation is about exploration. It's about scenarios, it's about trial and error. The word that comes to mind is "political game" because at that level it usually is the case. But as you set the stage correctly, from the very beginning, and set the expectations correctly, things will move very well.
It's very understandable that executives want results. They want to know what's going to happen, but innovation is about exploration. It's about scenarios, it's about trial and error. It's a mix, it's a balance, and it's also a game of human-to-human [interaction].
A big part of managing risk is better thinking and better decisions. I'm keen to know how you think through problems and solutions, and how do you make decisions, Victor?
I like to think of myself as a strategic thinker. I train my strategic muscle as often as possible. But sometimes you need to use what we call the gut feeling. I was reading an interesting book on the psychological dimension of executive coaching, and they were talking about gut feeling, as well. This is not something that comes out of the blue. It's something that's built on years of experience and expertise. And while I try to be self-aware every time I make a decision, to analyze all the variables surrounding me, sometimes I just can't. I don't have the resources or the time.
I'm learning to actually listen to this gut feeling.
I've had situations where I didn't have enough information about a situation and my gut feeling told me to go in a direction and I didn't! I based my decisions on this little information I had, and I was wrong! And then I started to think, okay, how should I integrate this - let's call it gut feeling - into my decision-making.
You recently published the "Value for money economy meets the connected customer" report, based on 13 years of ongoing industry research. There are four big trends in it, let's break those down.
Trend #1: All customers, from all industries, in all financial segments, expect a decline in spending in the next six to 12 months
Yes, we see this expectation as significant. Savings are becoming a problem. Consumers from all financial segments now see value-for-money as a key purchase driver. Paying attention to the share-of-wallet of your customer, understanding your customer's changing behavior in relation to your brand, to the products they're purchasing - it's not something nice to do, it's a must in the next period! A lot of digital tools allow us to do this, using psychographics and demographics.
All customers expect a decline in their spending in the next six to 12 months. And that's something to take into account by all industries, all kinds of businesses.
Trend #2 Trust in brands is decreasing
Trust in brands is decreasing. One of our main customer experience pillars at KPMG is integrity. Behind the integrity pillar are all those actions that build trust in a brand, and in the pandemic, we've seen a lot of trust-breaking actions from a lot of organizations. How you build trust, how you connect to the customer and keep your promise as a brand, and how you set expectations correctly and then manage those expectations, are becoming more and more important.
But most organizations are not really spot-on about understanding these aspects. Especially when we talk about trust. This is the hygienic factor in any relationship, not only commercial, business. Trust is at the core of everything that we do.
Trust is the hygienic factor for any relationship
Trust is the underlying foundation yet, you mentioned that not many organizations have taken full advantage of the opportunity. Why is that?
I think there are many reasons behind this. The one that I'm most intrigued by is that they didn't consider it important. It was not at the top of their mind. This intrigues me because, when you talk to an executive, the customer's always there in their conversation. When they talk about strategies, the customer's there!
But when you pay a closer look, you start to understand, to discover, that it's just a word, it's fluff in many situations. But, as things are changing, with consumers being more and more demanding, being able to compare and the many choices they have right now, they have the possibility, they have the power! Especially with digital, because many firms opened digital pathways as a result of COVID. In the value chain, in the big value chain of everything, the customer has a much more important role than 10, 15 years ago.
Yes. Switching has never been so easy. It's just the click of a button and people are able to consider something else. What advice would you give to a banking executive on how they might listen to their customers to engender this trust?
It's an example we take from e-commerce, where it's very simple to have sensors - we call them sensors- in your customer base and understand almost instantly what's going on in terms of purchasing, trends, et cetera. You can see it, you can build dashboards on it. What I would advise is to build those sensors, and actually bring a human-centric mentality to the core of the organization's culture.
Customer experience, user experience, customer centricity, these are all becoming the sort of business stats everybody's talking about. Few are actually doing it. Customer experience is not just something for a department that has the governance of this, it's actually a cultural thing. Customer experience is everybody's job in the organization.
That's why, for instance, when we work with an organization, we make sure that we build champions all around the organization: up and down, left and right, front office, middle office, back office.
Younger organizations are building from the very beginning: their processes, their technology, their systems, their people skills, around customers. It's so hard for mature organizations that have a different structure, legacy systems, to all of a sudden become customer-centric. But it's not impossible. This is the journey they need to walk.
Trend #3: customers want digital interactions
In 2020, a lot of the brands that we've been surveying could not be validated by our methodology because we did not have enough customer responses. Why? Simply because the consumers did not interact digitally with their brands, as these channels were purely physical.
The champions of 2020, and 2021, were those organizations that already had digital pathways to allow customer interaction and business continuity on digital channels. Those that were fast enough to actually start building them and allow business continuity were also there. We saw in 2021, in this market at least, that many organizations started to invest in building digital channels to allow customer interaction.
And this is here to stay! After the pandemic, this will not return to the previous state. It's a huge win for the customer, and they will be demanding this.
The champions of 2020, and 2021, were those organizations that already had digital pathways to allow customer interaction and business continuity on digital channels.
Also, a piece of advice for organizations that are building their digital pathways: digital technology is a tool. Digital is being mapped to a customer need, which translates into a business need. If you map technology, without understanding where your customer is, or where it is moving, that could be problematic. Digital goes hand-in-hand with understanding consumer behavior. Mapping this correctly allows you to differentiate.
Trend #4: Working from home influences spending patterns and customer behavior
This habit is also shaping up because working from home means putting in place new routines. And not only in terms of work-life balance but also in terms of lifestyle. It means it will influence how consumers spend. 13% of consumers declared they have moved home as a consequence of the new situation. Net confidence in walking and cycling is up by 9%, while confidence in public transportation has fallen to - 37%. This will impact how customers will interact with all their brands. And, while some customers predict they will prefer to continue working from home in the future, they are not giving up on their travel plans. Though they are shifting to destinations that are closer to home. And this impacts a lot in the travel and leisure industry, as well. As organizations, we need to pay attention to this trend as well, because it will influence spending patterns and customer behavior.
Author: Monica Dumitriu