Driving performance through excellence, with Vince Chan
25 min Vince Chan
In this episode Andrew talks to Vince Chan, an expert in digital transformation with experience at British Airways, NatWest Bank Investment, Shell Oil Company and Digicel. He proclaims himself a real believer in keeping things as simple as possible, building work cultures in which people can be 100% authentic with one another, and keeping a very close eye on customer sentiment.
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Our lives are becoming so much more fast-paced with so many more data inputs. No wonder we're having to innovate digitally to keep up with what's going on around us. I'm starting to see a lot more wellbeing, mental health take-time-out-for-you apps. It's almost like we need to reverse digitalize ourselves – and in order to find ourselves coming back to the spirit of nature we need a digital app to help us get there, whereas we never needed that in the first place … I think the broader mindset should be around how digital can aid our lives but not drive our lives.Vince Chan Tweet
Andrew: Hello again and thank you for tuning in to another episode of The Clientside Podcast. I'm Andrew Armitage, and I'm your host. I'm also the founder of a UK based digital agency, and in this series of podcasts, I've been inviting senior leaders in digital to share their insights on the role, their organisation and their approach.
Andrew: So today I'm delighted to be joined by Vince Chan, who has an enviable CV with a wealth of experience. Having worked in the industry for over 23 years at some of the largest companies and global brands such as British Airways, NatWest Bank and Shell, Vince is known for driving performance through excellence, scaling business growth and has a reputation for building empowered teams with an inclusive culture.
Andrew: And he's enjoyed the opportunity of working in Asia, Europe, Middle East and in the Caribbean, with Digicel, the region's premier telco service provider and digital operator. Outside of work, Vince holds a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, tries to find time for badminton, but is otherwise happy to enjoy the Caribbean sunshine and takes the opportunity to travel the islands – and who wouldn't? So welcome to this Clientside Podcast, Vince. It's great to speak with you.
Vince: Thanks, Andrew. Pleased to be here.
Andrew: So Vince, just introduce yourself quickly to our listeners.
Vince: Sure. So I've been in the industry for about 23 years working across several global brands like British Airways, and NatWest Bank Investment and Shell Oil Company prior to Digicel group in the Caribbean.
Andrew: Fantastic. So it's quite, quite a broad area there.
Vince: Yeah. It's one of these roles where you think each day really should be the same as the next day. But it isn't because there's such a broad range of of markets and different challenges and problems that come your way, you end up getting very good at finding out what the real root cause of the problem is and then quickly serving up a solution to your customer. Ultimately, we all work for the customer and it's our job to continue to serve our customers in the best possible way.
Andrew: We hear all sorts of variations around agile – agile with a little 'a' and lots of hybrid options. Just talk to me a little bit about what agile means to you.
Vince: Oh, Andrew, that's such a hard question for me to answer because I've spent so long in this space. Okay. So I'm a real believer in trying to keep it as simple as possible. We in my team do adhere very strictly to the scrum.org fundamentals of agile software development. We also we use things like Azure DevOps for board management. We've introduced automated testing through a range of different vendors as well. We're not in a – I would say – 100% of upstate yet, but we're getting there, getting very, very close to it.
Vince: We follow the scrum rituals. We have your retrospectives and your reviews and your planning. We ensure that all elements of the of the product backlog overall meet the company strategy and the overall digital growth strategy as well and the business unit growth as well. We ensure that every Sprint backlog contains user stories that genuinely meets and ships some kind of customer value on a two week basis. The Sprint Review has now become the most important meeting in our diaries, which is, I think, the right thing.
Vince: Every two weeks we come together and we look at what we've achieved, where we didn't achieve, not who but the what – always about the what. It's not necessarily about the who. We do look at burndown charts and productivity. We try to figure out who's got capacity coming up over the next two weeks. And I like to think that I've built a culture, an environment where we can be 100% authentic with one another. Now, we're not just serving for the customer. We're also fighting for each other now, which is which is very, very important when you're trying to build out a high performing team that has each other's backs all the time.
Andrew: Yeah. Especially across different territories or remote locations as well, of course.
Vince: And time zones.
Andrew: You need to know exactly who's working on what and what the impact of that is. And with those user stories, what is the main influence around those user stories? I mean, you've talked a little bit about that self-service. You've talked about understanding the market. What are the main drivers around prioritising those user stories that then ultimately feed into the product releases?
Vince: Usually in the digital space, the direction really comes from multiple sources. It's not not so easy to answer that question. We keep a very close eye on customer sentiment verbatim. We look at our NPS scores via surveys and they are read every day. We also look at our store scores and assessments of ratings. We look at those every day and take them very seriously. That itself is one channel in to impact our product backlog.
Vince: The other channel, of course, is aligning our own roadmap against those with other internal stakeholders, like other business units. And therefore my team, having had sight of the roadmap, will then work hard to ensure that we provide the same self-care functionality to meet the demand. We want to offer a complete transactional experience and service experience, and that's just one example of how we try to join up our roadmaps where possible, and where the influence, both external and internal, comes from.
Andrew: Yeah. And obviously though, the products in your portfolio, as you say, they're all interlinked. So, you know, you've got to maintain, I suppose, an even level of progress across that portfolio, as well as balancing that with the challenge around innovation and introducing new features that potentially start to take one particular product further ahead or causes others to lag. So I guess that's another challenge in your role of balancing the roll-out across the portfolio of products?
Vince: Yeah, the word innovation always makes me smile a bit because it's one of those things that requires incubation, you know, like you have to have an environment to, to protect the innovation otherwise it can get squashed very easily and never go to market. I have to say, since I came from a company which has a reputation for being reasonably slow moving – in the oil and gas space, I mean, for good reason too: you don't want to make mistakes in an oil and gas environment, it can be harmful to people in the environment. And you know, that mindset has made its way right the way through all staff in Shell and something I'm incredibly proud of.
Vince: But that does tend to breed a very risk-averse mindset which is appropriate for the space it's in. And the customers don't move quickly with reasonably long lead times in certain areas. When I compare that to the incredibly fast moving pace where I am currently, success is measured in minutes and hours rather than days, months and years. So when you when you say innovation, actually, I think that I've encountered a very talented group of people that are constantly innovating, constantly chasing, constantly trying to drive for the result, constantly pressuring everything and everyone around them.
Vince: It may be high pressure, but it genuinely does work. So yes, the art of innovating is trying to sort of almost have like a team of dwarves chipping away at the stone block on the left hand side and a giant or two with a very big hammer on the other side of the block. But they take a long time to bring the hammer down. And in order to buy time for your giants to bring the hammer down, your little team of dwarves need to keep chipping away at the block.
Vince: So just to sort of, you know, create time and space to allow for your major innovations to come through. That's really where finding the balance to me is continuously providing a service to our customers as high quality and at the same time creating space for those innovations and those features to come through. And when they do come through, you get behind it and you thrust it into market with as much high quality as you can. That's the challenge, I think.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You touched on measuring your performance – perhaps that's the best word to use for using things like NPS and and so on? – you're in a position where you're able to get a lot of feedback on a regular basis. How do you respond to that feedback? Things like NPS, how do you understand, measure the direction of travel, whether whether things are great but things are improving or falling back? Is there any particular methods or techniques that you use in terms of understanding what that direction of travel looks like?
Vince: So on a weekly basis, my team and I will will forensically go through those results and they'll look back and we'll look for trends. Our temps score comes in and we we have ranges, so we have between plus 30 to 0 to mine. If we are in a zero space, it means that we have neutrals. If we are positive ten or higher than that, they become promoters and we are benchmarking ourselves against an industry benchmark of around 24 or 25.
Vince: And right now our NPS goals are higher than that, which is good. Not every journey or app experience or transactional experience operates in the same way. Some of our app journeys don't perform as well as others, and that's really where we invest time in for every negative survey that is submitted or very negative or even a neutral one with the poor score, our customer team care teams will check the caller ID and we'll give them a call back or send an email to check in with the customer and follow up as to why they felt what they did and to dig deeper into the into the experience if it was negative.
Vince: So so we take great pride in actually within seconds calling back if we see a negative survey submitted. That's a statistic which I think we can all be quite proud of. It is data driven and we do take action immediately, as soon as we see a negative sentiment come through.
Andrew: Sure. And I imagine, you know, NPS is just one element. And that sounds quite an intensive element, because if you're making those manual calls that's personalised, it shows that you're very customer focused and, you know, promising to deliver the best that you possibly can for those customers and reaching out to people. But there must be multiple different data points across all those different platforms. What about things like analytics and your other sort of data points that you might collect? Are you using a particular suite? Do you rely on the sort of de-facto platforms like Google Analytics and things like that to get that additional behavioural information?
Vince: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we do. I mean, we use Firebase, we measure time and app, we measure funnel, we measure installs versus first open and gross ad. We measure customers in terms of how they choose to transact and where they go to next. So we track all of those things and we we use that insight to guide how we shape the user experience and what we promote as applications to the user. In the home page, there is a wealth of analytics that's underneath all of that.
Andrew: And does that influence almost like a culture of experimentation? I mean, we talked about innovation and I think experimentation is separate from that. But are you are you using that data to then run a series of tests and to really understand the environment that people are working in that ultimately allows you to, I suppose, make those marginal gains as you're constantly on that drive to improve the delivery of services.
Vince: I mean, the answer is yes. We run AB tests very specifically on campaigns that are run for engagement. We're very focused on sort of customer acquisition retention and preventing churn and also engaging lapsed users. Many of our campaigns are shaped in a way that are micro-segmented. So we look at the demographic and we look at the kind of features that our customers have been using, how long they've been a customer for, how loyal they've been, how are they a high revenue, low revenue type customer? Are they something in between?
Vince: And all of our engagement campaigns which we use things like Swrve and many of those other app engagement tools, they're all shaped and based on the analytics that comes from that kind of research.
Andrew: So you're very much a data company, aren't you, I think in terms of analyzing those those behaviors and using that to loop right round back into the development, the innovation that goes alongside that and maintaining that real customer centric approach in terms of delivering what customers are asking for, what the data is showing you, and really constantly trying to improve those customer journeys and the experiences that they get through your portfolio?
Andrew: Okay. Well, it's been really interesting to chat through some of those points, Vince. We have a series of questions to close out our our episode today. So, we'll get stuck into those. Now what is the one app, website or piece of software, personal or professional, that you feel you couldn't live without?
Vince: I think right now there's something called freeletics. I don't know if you've heard of it. It's kind of like calisthenics with yoga and Pilates and sort of home bodyweight exercises. It's a very clever app that allows you to plug in various details and it will analyze and give you a bunch of exercises depending on what you're trying to target as your outcome. So for me, you know, being in my mid-forties, I still have a penchant for like burgers and beer and therefore there's a whole middle-aged spread thing going on and therefore it's summer coming up soon and you know, you've got to get your beach bod going. So I do find this app very, very useful. And there have been some gains, not as, you know, as much as much as I would like, but, you know, not quite a kilo, but not not half a kilo. It's you know, there's been some gains there. Yeah. Freeletics is the one I wouldn't like to live without currently.
Andrew: Okay, very good. Excellent. What's exciting you in digital at the moment? There's always so much change. There's always so much going on. Different routes that companies can take and even individuals can take in terms of bringing digital into their lives and using it to make lives easier and so on. So what's exciting you in the digital space right now?
Vince: I think that the more digitalization happens of an analog process, meaning, you know, it's not just the paper from paper to digital, it's more converting a manual process into an automated/semi-automated digital one. It just creates so much more time space to do all the other value added things right from the way that you don't need to queue up to buy a train ticket anymore – a very simple tap on a card, or you can even book your ticket in advance on the phone and display that in your phone's wallet so that you can tap in.
I mean, our lives are becoming so much more fast paced with so many more data inputs. It is no wonder that we're having to innovate digitally to keep up with what's going on around us. I am starting to see a lot more sort of wellbeing, mental health take-time-out-for-you apps. It's almost like we need to reverse digitalize ourselves and in order to find ourselves coming back to the spirit of nature, we need a digital app to help us get there, whereas we never needed that in the first place, if you know what I mean.
Andrew: No, there's a certain irony there isn't there with that?
Vince: There is a deep irony, right? And I actually think that the more conscious and aware we become of our world become digital, the more conscious we will all as people become to not need it as much. I think that there is a real dependency on all digital things and I think not everything does need to be that way. And I think it's also in my mind naive to assume that everything digital will go away as well and we'll go back to the Stone Age. I think that's ridiculous. You know, there are lots of protesters happening around controversially around, you know, oil blockades and so on. But I think that the broader mindset should be around how can digital aid our lives but not drive our lives. That's being a bit philosophical. But yeah, that's that's the way I would address that.
Andrew: Interesting. Yeah, interesting. Okay. Let's I mean, we've talked a little bit about mental health. If you found that you had an extra hour in every day, how would you spend that time?
Vince: Hang out with my kids, play with the cats. Do more sport. Not be in front of a screen, I would say.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. But you find you must spend a lot of time in front of a screen having remote teams and so on to check in with and support.
Vince: Yeah, I do. I do. I do make a habit of putting the cameras on. It just makes virtual working so much easier. But at the same time, I also encourage my team to not put the cameras on and get a Bluetooth headset and walk around and and and just, you know, keeping mobile while walking and talking actually really is quite stimulating when you're tied to your desk all the time and you're stuck in one position.
Vince: If you have to do that, then stretch if if you need to get one of those squeezy toys that you can put in your hand and squeeze all the time, that's okay, too. You know, I have a little mini basketball set where I roll up a paper ball and throw it just over the other side of the room. That kind of helps out a bit too. It's a bit cliche, but actually, I do find that little bit of movement does help a bit.
Andrew: I like that. The idea of, yeah, camera's off, Bluetooth headset, you still make the contribution and you walk and talk.
Vince: You have no idea how many steps you can get up in that space. There was a guy I used to work with and a couple of years back and we had a competition around steps, you know, in a day. And we all we all came back after a week, you know, all very proud of our, you know, 1000, 3000, 5000 steps a day, I was like, wow, 5000. Somebody came back saying, yeah, I did 27,000 steps. How did you do 27,000 steps in a desk job and, bless him, he said, well, I've just walked in circles around this table in my living room with the Bluetooth headset. I'm like, Oh my God.
Andrew: Wow. He must have been dizzy after that, if nothing else.
Vince: I guess you have to go around different directions [laughs]
Andrew: Just thinking about your role then. What do you feel is the most important personal attribute that you bring to to your job?
Vince: What do I bring? I think I'm very, very patient, very resilient, very focused and relentless in the pursuit of of the best quality outcome. I think those are probably my strengths in some ways. I always encourage, I coach where I am asked to – and sometimes when I'm not asked to, I'll still coach if I think that there's an opportunity to improve. I also ask for reverse coaching as well.
Vince: And I've had a long history of working and building teams across time zones and borders, and I think it's that kind of ability to see through the end goal, no matter how cloudy or how fiery it is on the horizon. But just the ability to see past all of that and bring everyone with you on that vision and protect them on that vision, I think, and support them and shield them and arm them as needed. I think that's something which I hope would be reflected in my references, in my LinkedIn recommendations. Yeah.
Andrew: Well, ultimately, in your role, you're charged with delivery, aren't you? And as we know, tech projects don't always go to plan. They they certainly throw up their challenges. Of course, audiences throw up their challenges as they're constantly changing. So I think yeah. As you say that focus on delivery is clearly going to be a valuable attribute.
Andrew: Final question then. Thinking back to the start of your career, what advice would you give to someone who was at the start of their career if they're looking to go further into digital and and build out a career there?
Vince: I think the advice I would give myself back then or to a more junior, early – I can't say junior – an early career professional really would be to embrace every every moment of the opportunity you had to work in a digital space and use it as a platform to just expand your knowledge, right? Slightly challenge like a sprinkle of pepper and salt, salt and pepper, but always focus on what your your desired outcome is. And it may not be your desired outcome. It could be a desired outcome set by somebody else. But but early career. Think about how you can meet that goal and execute and then always reflect.
Vince: Always ask yourself, could I have done differently? What can I do better? What would somebody else have done? Don't spend too long because then you end up navel gazing and not moving forwards, But, you know, always reflect on an achievement and take the learnings from it and build it. Build a network of trusted people who give you good advice over and over, again and again. Whether you choose to take the advice or not, I think it's up to you, but at least find people that you can trust, that have supported you and have your back and then take them with you. Ride with them on your career and make the best of it. That's what I would say.
Andrew: Well, that definitely is good advice. So yeah, I completely agree with with everything you say there. I think it's interesting in so many digital projects I've been involved with, you know, I look back, I think, Oh, I wouldn't have done it like that. Yeah, it's so easy to say that in digital, but at the same time you can't beat yourself up over it because we're all in this constant learning cycle, particularly with digital, you know, things change and they move so quickly. So long as you are learning from it and not beating yourself up about the way you did something that you now can't change. I think that's that's the key, isn't it?
Vince: And Andrew, I think my final comment on that question then would be find a framework that suits you and master it. You know what I mean by a framework? You could pick any one of a number of different delivery frameworks, you know, any number of different project management spaces. But find one, maybe two, get really good at them and then apply them where you need to. Right? So is it complex and complicated? Is is it simple and intuitive? Is the technology mature or immature? You know, do you apply the 'five Ds' of innovation design thinking? That's something which I sign up to – find your framework and master it and then kind of pick and choose the skills and the tools that you've acquired to suit the situation because not every framework will apply.
Vince: You know, I did Lean Six Sigma some time ago and the DMAIC approach is fantastic for building strong structural, sustainable change while eliminating process waste. But it takes a long time to execute and a lot of resources and a lot of analysis to make that happen. You know, the Innovators Handbook would tell you, build a skateboard first and then fall off it a few times and then eventually your skateboard will fly, right? And it's having that mental flexibility to go from, you know, a strong, sustainable, structured approach to a very rapid innovation technique. And then everything in between. I think the more skills you grow, the more tool sets you grow, the more frameworks you grow. You just become much better at picking what is the most appropriate path forwards, and that really should be where the learning goes, I would say.
Andrew: Yeah. And of course all of these things can be blended to some extent as well can't they, to suit the scenario or suit the outcome and arguably the people who who are working on that as well?
Andrew: Fascinating stuff, Vince, really, really enjoyed having our conversation with you today. So thank you for joining me on the podcast. Really appreciate it. If our listeners want to follow up with you, where would you suggest they go?
Vince: Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn via a message.
Andrew: Well, we will add some of those links to our show notes page on the website and really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining me.
Vince: My pleasure. Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: So thank you to Vince for joining me today. I actually managed to catch him on a visit to London, so we didn't have the challenge of dealing with the time zone difference. But given his working day is driven by transatlantic time zones, I hugely appreciate him taking the time out of his day to share his experience and insight. Links from the show will be added on to our website, along with the written transcript of the conversation, which you'll be able to find at adigital.agency/podcast.
Andrew: So I hope you found value in today's conversation. I'd love to hear any feedback or comments from the show, so please do reach out to me. You can find me on social media. Twitter and LinkedIn are your best bet to get in touch, but I'd love to hear from you. You can also email the show, send your message through to hello@theclientsideshow. Do check out adigital.agency who are the supporters of the podcast. If you're planning a website project over the coming months, then that's an area we specialise in, particularly when combined with other digital transformation activities.
Andrew: And for those that may be interested, I also have a bestselling book on the website planning process which is available to buy on Amazon. Holistic Website Planning is the title, so do check that out. Finally, if you can share the episode with your friends and colleagues, then that would be massively appreciated. We'd love to spread the word about some of the fabulous guests we've had on this series of podcasts. And one more ask, if you can leave a rating and a review, that would be hugely appreciated as well. I'll be back in a couple of weeks time when I'll be joined by another special guest. So I hope you can join me then. Cheers.