Galway grad trades on putting customer at centre of corporate decision-making

Fri, Apr 27, 2012, 01:00

WILD GEESE Dave Frankland  Vice-president, research director of customer intelligence, Forrester, Palm Beach, Florida: Dave Frankland believes some companies talk the talk about taking the customer seriously, but fail to walk the walk

FOR DAVE Frankland, keeping a seat for the customer around the boardroom table of the some of the best-known companies in the world is what it’s all about.

As vice-president and research director of consumer intelligence at Forrester, his research helps companies use information about customers to improve profits.

“Every company you talk to, they’ll say the customer is at the core and the customer is always right, or we’re customer-centric, but they’re not,” says the Florida-based Dubliner.

“We say to customers, look at the minutes from your executive team meetings and think about how much the customer is being discussed. It’s then you see a light bulb go off.”

Working with Forrester now for over five years, Frankland says we’re living in the era of the “data deluge”, where companies have more information on their customers and more new ways of collecting it than ever before.

“Companies are good at catching data but not quite as good at integrating it. There’s a lot we can do but don’t do in terms of bringing data together to give us a better understanding.”

Making his living now as a proponent of a customer-centric philosophy in business, and writing a well-read Forrester blog on the topic, his NUIG degree in English and philosophy seems to have proved a useful choice.

Taking time out after this studies, “working the guts of a year in France and Spain in bars”, Frankland completed a master’s in public relations at Stirling University in Scotland.

“I never thought this was me getting on boat and emigrating and never coming back; it was more, here’s a chance to travel.”

Hired by London PR firm Hill & Knowlton after his studies, his main client was BT. When in 1998 the telco created a joint venture with US provider ATT, he was asked to move to New York to make sure his client got its share of voice in the deal.

While the work environment at Hill & Knowlton in the US was “more corporate”, the vibrancy of the Big Apple was the perfect foil.

“You walked out the door of the office and the city threw all that right at you . . . I didn’t know how long I was going to be there so I just wanted to do as much as I could as quickly as I could.”

The 1990s was the decade of the tech start-up and Frankland jumped ship to a technology PR consultancy, specialising in advising dotcoms. “The agency rode the wave of the dotcom boom, but unfortunately they crashed with the bust,” he says.

“I was one of the two people who turned out the lights in the New York office as we walked out. That was a little scary.”

His fear was compounded by the fact that without a job, visa restrictions required him to leave. But find a job he did, joining online advertising company DoubleClick, where ultimately he became vice-president of corporate communications.

He joined Forrester in 2006 and now heads its customer intelligence wing.

He says the opportunities for companies to listen to their customers have never been as great. “Whether that’s something you facilitate through communications and feedback loops or through social media . . . Look at Starbucks and Dell – they’ve built platforms for customers to come in and pitch product ideas.”

He believes consumers are now more empowered than ever, with social media giving them a far more prominent platform from which to praise or pan a product.

Citing author Fred Reichheld, he warns companies against “bad profits” or those that come at a customer’s expense, volunteering a personal anecdote.

When he missed a flight and couldn’t make a planned hotel stay, Frankland understood when the hotel had to charge him anyway.

But when he phoned to get a receipt and ask why the corresponding loyalty points had not been added to his account, they said, “we don’t give points unless you stay at the hotel”.

A platinum customer with the chain, he was aghast. “I said, ‘hold on a second, you take my money but you don’t give me my points?’”

He says within 24 hours of relaying his tale on Twitter, not only was the hotel chain following him but they gave him the points.

Frankland thinks being Irish is a huge advantage in his adopted country – “it’s always a conversation starter.”

Although he has lived in the US for almost 15 years now, there are some things he hasn’t got used to.

“When I hear my kids say something in a thick American accent, I’m like, where did that come from?”

It’s the entrepreneurial spirit in the US that he admires most.

“I think here success is celebrated and failure is not the end of the line. Before you succeed, you’re expected to fail. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and work hard, it’s a fantastic place to work.”