Kaufering, 02. November 2017. Im Rahmen der Digital Confession Drives hatte ich die Möglichkeit, eine halbe Stunde mit Johann Jenson im Van durch Köln zu touren. Johann ist ein super Gesprächspartner mit einer interessanten Vita, außerdem ist er Global Head of Digital Customer Experience bei Hilti und dort dafür verantwortlich, die digitalen Touchpoints weiterzuentwickeln und neue Touchpoints umzusetzen. Hilti hat, vielleicht etwas unter dem Radar, in den letzten Jahren in diesen Bereich investiert und will es natürlich auch weiter tun.
Im Interview (Englisch) spricht Johann über die Verbindung der alten (IT-) Welt mit der neuen, den Herausforderungen bei der Weiterentwicklung und Gestaltung neuer Touchpoints, Hiltis Herangehensweise und die Möglichkeiten, die Hilti zukünftig aus der Digitalisierung ziehen möchte. Aufgrund intensiver Vorbereitungen auf den Digital Commerce Day B2B Special, der heute und morgen in Stuttgart stattfindet, bleibe ich die Übersetzung vorerst schuldig, diese wird aber „asapst“ nachgeliefert.
Viel Spaß mit dem Podcast auf Soundcloud oder Itunes, sowie dem Youtube-Video.
Lennart: Right next to me is Johann Jenson from Hilti. He is the Global Head of Digital Customer Experience. Thanks for joining me and to give our listeners and the audience an idea of who you are you might just give a short intro about yourself.
Johann: Thanks for having me, this is cool. I look forward to seeing Cologne while we drive around. I’m working with Hilti for the last year and a half. What I do at Hilti is to try to make sure that the customer is featured in the work that we do online and making sure that the voice of the customer is held within that product and service development.
Lennart: What I found impressive about Hilti, it was in 2013 or 2014 when I attended a presentation of one of your colleagues, he showed a slide how Hilti maps the customer journey and how Hilti has changed the view from being only direct sales centric (and very sales rep centric) to seeing that customers have a lot of different touchpoints and a lot of them are digital. Back in 2014. From that perspective, how have you evolved in the last three years in that perspective?
Johann: First of all, Hilti has always been a very customer-centric company in the hardware development that they do. They spend a lot of time learning how people use our products and iterating based on feedback. But there is a big difference how you do hardware development and software development. And that’s where the learning has come for Hilti. And the first big major piece of software that we use is, of course, our E-commerce installations and structure and so on. The team – and it was probably one of my colleagues from the Hilti website team that was presenting this – they would have been looking at what a purchaser does in a large construction company: What are they looking for and what are their pains. How can we solve those?
Hilti prides itself on having 200,000 daily physical customer touchpoints. That’s in addition to all the virtual touchpoints that we have, web, mobile and customer service chat and phone calls. Those touchpoints are very much reactive. They come to us and we react to them. The move is to see where we can start to intercept these touchpoints or the customer with positive engagements. How can we create micro-moments on mobile that are preempting the customer from having to come to us and saying: “Hey, where is my order by the way?” If we can then provide the information beforehand, it gives us a bit of a leg-up. And you can do that now, of course, with technology. Probably the big difference is that we are no longer just saying “Let’s react to how customers want to engage with us” but we are saying “Let’s actually preemptively get the customer the information they need at the time they need it.”
„Probably the big difference is that we are no longer just saying “Let’s react to how customers want to engage with us” but we are saying “Let’s actually preemptively get the customer the information they need at the time they need it.”
Lennart: In my experience, companies with the direct sales approach are usually by nature more customer-centric than sole distributors or than sole manufacturers without direct end customer contact. And it’s fair to say that Hilti has been known ever since as a company that is more customer-centric than the industry average. How do you manage it to become even more, to dive even more into that? To focus even more on the customer and track customer needs on a more granular level than on only doing personas?
Johann: Sure. Because a lot of the research around customers is still stuck in kind of this idea: “Let me do a survey and see what the customer wants”. And that may provide you with some kind of insights about the customer needs and what solutions you might want to build for them.
For us, it’s really about closing or shortening the feedback loops, rather than developing stuff and waiting to go through these long feedback loops where you ask the customer what they think of the product. Why not build it into the product itself? And that is using a lot of modern kind of B2C concepts. And SaaS companies do this very well, they just monitor the customer or user right and the A/B testing basically allows you to kill off the features people don’t need or improve the ones you can see are working. And for a lot of companies creating that kind of infrastructure, to allow for A\B testing, to allow for these quick feedback loops is the initial challenge. Once you got it running, then you have a well-oiled customer feedback and an iterative, agile product development framework.
That solves a little bit the product development problem, but then you also need to think: “Okay, what about the innovation side? How do we actually come up with new ideas?” Because it’s one thing to create a product and have a lot of users and evolve the product. It’s another thing to come up with something from scratch. That’s where we are improving dramatically. We work with a lot of designers, both internal and external, that are really able to get into understanding what are the big customer problems out there, how do we make sure to prioritize the ones that really matter so that we can solve the big problems and build solutions that people will actually use, rather than waste resources on building everything that we think of.
Lennart: To really operationalize what you just explained, also from a technology standpoint, it’s really important to have, to add to the existing organization. You can neither really build all the process design steps and the iterations on the legacy systems, nor can you build it or demand it from your existing core IT. Last 50 years they had to follow a different approach. How are you adding up to your existing organization to enable that?
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Johann: It is a bit of a shock to the organization to work in this cross-functional way, where you want to work on different parts of the company with different skills. Working with people that come from potentially a legacy kind of outsourcing commodity IT world view towards these start-up kids. These hipsters with skateboards and funny haircuts that think that the world should be open and free and everybody should share everything. That there’s a little bit of clash in terms of culture and so on. You need to take everybody on the journey. Get them involved in an early stage of developing these solutions. I don’t think there is necessarily a complete mismatch between the legacy systems and this iterative agile approach, but you do certainly need to make the effort to involve the legacy parts of the organizations in the decision-making at an early stage so that they are also part of building those solutions.
That’s where we see the most resistance is: If the solution is built in isolation by the funny haircut people and then they come and say: “By the way, we built the solution, can you help us?” If you build it together or have them somehow involved in it and then maybe have the funny haircut people, allow for that extra level of innovation because from where they come from, this is normal, these digital natives or people that come from start-ups where they can build up features in a matter of hours or they deploy multiple times a day or things like that are concepts that are kind of a little bit foreign to the older parts of the organization and there is a lot of learning that has to happen. That these days it is not always obvious to find someone that has this in-between. You either have that kind of commodity IT mindset or you come from the start-up world or you are a really full MBA student that doesn’t know much about product development or customer research or design or UX. Finding people that really bridge that gap is really key for companies going forward. Being on one extreme or the other doesn’t necessarily add a lot of value, just a lot of friction.
„Finding people that really bridge that gap is really key for companies going forward. Being on one extreme or the other doesn’t necessarily add a lot of value, just a lot of friction.“
Lennart: Is it success critical to really integrate both worlds at a really early point? This already excludes the idea that a lot of companies are following. To say: “We are founding a digital hub in London or in Berlin and there all the digital magic is happening and somehow we integrate that back?” Because I never heard a good answer or somebody how really had a plan in place how do we integrate that back because that is the hardest part of the crazy stuff with the funny haircut people. They can produce a lot of crazy stuff if you want them to. This already excludes this, right?
Johann: every company is different and their needs are going to be different as well. It’s based on a really diverse set of customers and they’re going to do their research and come to different conclusions. Ultimately, being too far from the organization, potentially if you are trying to reinvent a little bit or modernize your core business, maybe a little bit difficult. It depends on how open is your data, do you have external APIs, do you have internal APIs that can be easily consumed? If you don’t create the infrastructure for those accelerators and incubators, then you are unlikely to get a lot of benefits back to the core organization.
I have seen a lot of examples of accelerators and incubators that aren’t particularly successful. PR wise it looks great because company X is opening up to the start-up world and they are hiring a bunch of developers that are working on crazy moonshot ideas. The problem is, a lot of these incumbents aren’t really understanding how they are then going to take that and bring it into their core business, spin it off as a new product, take out some innovation or even just incorporate these moonshot people into their organization. They are kind of creating two separate worlds and the real benefit of having this kind of innovation hubs is that the company should be able to learn, they should get something back from it.
I don’t know what the solutions are, I certainly think that it’s maybe one step in the right direction. But if you go too far, you risk alienating the part of your core business. Personally, I believe a lot of working to change the mindset within the core business towards a kind of do-it-attitude. Like “here’s a problem and let’s just go ahead and build it, let’s work with the existing players”. At the same time, there is that kind of need to go into the moonshot, the Google X, the Daimler X, the Allianz X, the kind of territory as well. The devil is in the details.
Lennart: But then there is a different approach. There is more trying this crazy stuff but that isn’t necessarily to be integrated into the core system and in today’s core business. This is more trying the crazy stuff and sharing the experiences with others, trying to be one step ahead of time without losing a lot of money for implementation projects that don’t work at the end of the day. In general, would you say that getting back to the legacy IT versus the guy with the funny haircut, coming from being a cost center and CIOs being incentivized on saving 1% or 2% of cost, being the great hero if you save 3% overall costs at the end of the year, do you see the need of having another view on IT as more of a part of profit center in general?
Johann: Yeah, I 100% agree. That’s why I push for. You have to have this integrated team of legacy on one hand and kind of start-up and entrepreneurial innovation mentality, design mentality. On the other extreme, you want to have something separated from the core and be able to, in that X example, where you really are spinning of new business models, you potentially are designing entirely new companies, entirely new entities. The fundamental issue is to go back to the IT question. If they are trying to maintain reliability and that’s what they exist for, it’s irresponsible to continue with that rhetoric because you have to acknowledge that it is not the only thing that IT does these days.
IT provides productivity tools for employees, they provide software like Microsoft or Slack and that’s just not about reliability, that’s about user experience, that’s about how colleagues are able to interact and innovate. It should be part of the core competence of the IT organization to also look at internal productivity and innovation as part of their KPI. And then to take that and say, if we are gonna build applications for customers, you also have to apply the same to IT, because they need to be incentivized, they need to be part of that innovation framework.
Lennart: Do they also have to develop towards thinking more in business terms and not just in IT implementation terms?
Johann: I believe that the two should be very closely mixed. You have this concept of the business guys are going to throw everything over the fence and then the IT guys are going to go ahead and implement it. And I don’t think that’s how you build good solutions, I don’t think that’s how you build good applications or products or services. It should be more of a collaborative process. There are certain things where it’s very obvious implementation, that maybe you can throw things over the fence. But when it comes to adding more innovative solutions, where maybe it’s new territory that people have not explored, or it’s maybe outside of the core repetitive business, there needs to be more of a collaborative approach. I definitely think so.
Lennart: And even sometimes, if you do the process right, the IT department has the better solution than just your idea of what the solution would be. Throwing over the fence, getting rid of the fence would probably be the first very incremental step that everybody could do today.
Johann: Yeah, absolutely.
Lennart: I have seen in projects, and throughout my time working for companies and corporates, that the topic you are obviously working on, is hard enough to implement it in one country, in one organization. Now you’re the Global Head. Your troubles and challenges quadruple basically – how do you do that on a global scale?
Johann: You have to be very focused. Trying to please every country or customer in every market is going to lead to a race to the bottom. If you don’t pile it small, focus on a core group of customers in a core geographic location, I don’t think you ever get to move forward with new innovative products.
There’s a responsibility for product teams to understand that they are not going to fix everything all in one. Having this MVP mentality and really driving engagement with a small group of users is really important. The obvious examples, when Yelp started out they focused on 27-year-olds in the Mission district of San Francisco. And until they got the traction, they didn’t want to expand beyond that. This is just common knowledge in the start-up community. In the corporate world, it seems that the literature is only just now catching up. McKinsey and the major management consulting companies are now kind of establishing that these are rules of how you should do business, how you should do product development or innovation. But it’s been something that has been common sense in the start-up or the VC world. But I’m excited to see how it works in the corporate world.
„Having this MVP mentality and really driving engagement with a small group of users is really important.“
Lennart: But how is it then exactly at Hilti? You guys are working on every continent and you guys are on every continent, right? Are you working there on different initiatives on every continent or are you working on only a few chosen countries on the same stuff? How do you solve that?
Johann: Depending on the product, we obviously tend to have an individualized go-to-market. Often, it’ll involve one city or one country and one subset of a customer group. And the customer research and the product development happened very closely. In fact, we have done sessions where we were literally working on the job site, from a construction site, building an application or a feature with feedback from people on the construction site. It’s not always logistically obvious to do that. But if you have the opportunity, if you have the relationship with the customer that allows you to do that, it’s pretty essential because you get that quick feedback immediately in a way that a start-up would.
I did a workshop in Berlin, about a year and a half ago, before I joined Hilti. We brought engineers from a large aerospace company to Checkpoint Charlie and we interviewed just random tourists that were walking around Checkpoint Charlie, asking them what they would find. We had a certain design for an aircraft and we were getting feedback from them. And because this is a B2C company or rather the end user was a consumer, we got pretty valuable feedback that the engineers would have never gotten with some large market research study and so on. The emotional impact that it had on the engineers, more than just knowledge because maybe they read that they had gotten feedback like that, but the emotional impact that it gave the engineers or the designers or whoever gets involved in these design thinking or product development workshops.
That’s really the key because they take that back to the drawing board, they take that back to the JIRA tickets, they start writing and then they really implement it because they have that emotional attachment. I don’t think product development or solution development should be detached. A lot of large corporations like to think of product development or solution development as a science. Start-ups know that it’s not a science, it’s somewhere in between, it’s an art and a science. And that emotional link for the developer or the designer is really important.
Lennart: You made a lot of comparisons to start-ups which is highly influenced by your background being a founder yourself in South Africa, from a start-up that basically does the same as Airbnb in South Africa. With your experience back there and now projected for today and into the future: As a corporate, what can you bring to the table to really benefit from cooperation with start-ups and have a steep learning curve? Not just be a pain in the ass for the start-ups sitting around in the office producing zero value for the start-ups but demanding a lot of “teach us how to be agile”? What do you have to do as a corporate?
Johann: The way for us that we think of start-ups, well at least in our team, is for us, they are another user. We look at customers, we look at construction site managers, we look at engineers and architects and the type of people Hilti services and those are customers for us. Those are users of the products and services that we build. But we also need to look at start-ups because they provide us with an aggregate view of some of those customer groups of some of those personas. And they have a very deep understanding of them as well. It would be arrogant to think that we can service all of our potential target audiences considering how much an innovation a start-up is able to create. We try to think of ways that we can interact with start-ups, where we can support them and for Hilti it is still at an early stage how we engage with start-ups, but we’re very open to understanding better for they’re doing their solution development and where there are things that we can help them with.
Obviously, operating in 120 countries being around for about 75 years, of course, there is a lot of knowledge of this sector that start-ups do want to learn from. The obvious challenge for us is really how do we embed start-ups within our innovation framework, in specifically what can we provide them which is essentially your question. But coming from the start-up world the one thing that really has – I guess – has had a remarkable impact on me is the sheer size of an organization like Hilti with 26,000 employees in 120 countries. You have distribution, you have R&D working on hardware development, you have all these things that as a start-up you don’t really think about. You don’t have the resources, you’re trying to bootstrap everything, you’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of every last thing you’re doing and removing yourself a little bit the risk, because you are constantly trying to avoid any risk because you are not going to put all your eggs in one basket.
The nice luxury about being in a corporate is that you can also teach start-ups that sometimes it is worth taking the risk if you have the evidence to show that you should. A lot of strong corporates are very risk-averse but when they are ready to really make that leap, they can make a great impact. And for start-ups, it’s really about having impact or entrepreneurs that want to change the world. In our case of construction engineering and architecture, we provide that opportunity. We’d like to be part of a framework or an ecosystem of companies that are really at the forefront of evolving this industry. We are working now with a lot of partners at a global level that a lot of start-ups would find pretty fascinating. It’s an open invitation to get in touch with us and have a chat with us because there’s a lot that we can learn from each other.
„We’d like to be part of a framework or an ecosystem of companies that are really at the forefront of evolving this industry. We are working now with a lot of partners at a global level that a lot of start-ups would find pretty fascinating.
Lennart: And there is a growing number of construction start-ups so there are a lot of start-ups looking into how can we digitalize and transform construction sites and everything that surrounds it. Johann, it was a great pleasure having you here. Now that it starts raining and we are approaching the dmexco again thank you very much for your time, really appreciate it, lots of success at Hilti digitalizing the construction industry, challenging the industry, pushing it forward. They’re lucky to have guys like you and the guys on your team, so looking forward to seeing your development.
Johann: Cool, thanks.