Transformation Is About Culture And People For DHL’s Cristian Citu

Cristian Citu has been in various marketing roles at DHL for the last eight years—working most of the time in digital marketing, before recently joining the corporate strategy team, where he is focusing on the logistics group’s digital transformation. Here he talks about how the long and complex journey of digital transformation is more about people and culture than technology itself, and how customer experience is at the heart of DHL’s strategy going forward. We began by asking him about his key priorities when it comes to DHL’s own digital transformation.

Citu: Right now we are very much focused on designing the strategic framework aimed at helping us to accelerate our digital transformation. A lot of people at DHL are currently looking into what we need to continue transforming, so we can ensure that our industry leadership continues in the digital age.

I'm trying to keep my eyes as much as possible on what other organisations are doing regarding their own digital transformations and what we can learn from them. It is about looking at how they are successful and how they fail, in order to make sure that we’re not repeating the same mistakes. We also have to be constantly aware that, sooner or later, there is a potential risk that, like any other industry, logistics could be disrupted.

CMO.com: What is your most valuable insight into successful digital transformation so far?
Transformation is very much about cultural change. A lot of people think transformation is all about technology. Yes, digital transformation is made possible by technology, but simply investing millions in technology doesn’t mean that you are ready for the digital age. If technology isn’t properly integrated into an organisation and you don’t have a plan for the people who need to use the new technology and who need to adopt new ways of working, you're not going to be successful.

Transformation is really about people. A company is nothing without its people, and we have to focus our efforts to make sure we have the right people on board with the right skills and mindset. That’s where the biggest challenge lies.

CMO.com: DHL has made a number of acquisitions in the digital marketing space. What is the long-term plan behind this?
Indeed, within the DHL group there have been some acquisitions in the digital marketing area. Some of those acquisitions have proven to be successful, others not so successful and they were either sold or shut down. What is important is that we are allowing ourselves to push new boundaries alongside our core traditional logistics services. We need to stretch ourselves much more often and, if we fail in some things, it’s OK as long as we fail early enough and we learn from those experiences.

Trying to digitally transform an organisation the size of DHL takes time. It does not happen overnight, or even as fast as we wish it could be. For instance, we are helping the organisation to spend more time co-operating with startup communities, as well as working with partners from the technology field, because we know that it will enable us to be much more focused on accelerated change.

CMO.com: What are the main challenges you face in the logistics industry?
One of the key challenges in the logistics industry is that many companies don’t work with an exclusive logistics partner. A lot of them have different operations with multiple logistics providers, and there is a risk of seeing our industry purely as a commodity.

From a marketing perspective, we are trying to address this challenge by creating a stronger emotional connection between the DHL brand and our customers. It is difficult because most people just want to get their stuff moved from A to B, and as long as everything goes well, they are happy. They do not necessarily recognise that logistics can be a competitive differentiator and that, on a higher level, it plays a key role in connecting the world and supporting development.

CMO.com: How are you going about creating that deeper connection?
Significantly improving the way in which we bond with our customers is not something that can be done easily or quickly, but we are trying to make sure that we maintain our focus on being a very customer-centric company. It is about examining the customer experience that we are actually delivering.

We are making a significant effort to deliver the right customer experience for this industry and aim to set a benchmark for customer experience across other industries. This means understanding that every single touch point the customer interacts with plays a crucial role in the customer experience journey. It is not an easy task. Companies the size of DHL have to try to connect the different functions within the organisation to make sure that everyone fully understands not just the role of their specific function, but the role they play in the entire customer experience journey.

Each employee’s daily work is connected to the whole ecosystem of customer experience that we deliver as the DHL brand. It starts with the employees, with every single one of us. This has prompted the company to make huge investments in a groupwide training and development programme for employees in recent years. Success starts with your very first group of stakeholders—your employees.

CMO.com: How do you achieve that consistency in a global company of 500,000 employees?
We are the most international company in the world—we are present in more countries than the United Nations has members. In order to achieve our mission of “Excellence. Simply Delivered”—our customer promise written on our vans and trucks around the world—our employees have to believe in it.

The logistics industry has people at its core: drivers, couriers, workers in the warehouses or on the phone in customer service. These people are often the most important touch points because they are the ones interacting with our customers and their shipments the most. We have to make sure that all these people are truly engaged, believe in its vision, and are proud DHL brand ambassadors wherever they go.

CMO.com: How important is it to have a single customer view from a sales and marketing perspective, and how advanced are you in being able to do that?
A single customer view is often one of the biggest targets for marketers across many industries nowadays, and we’re investing in this area too. But, for a company as large and complex as DHL, understanding exactly which online and offline interactions each customer has had over a specific period of time requires huge integration. Once you achieve a single customer view across marketing, sales, customer service, and so on, you have access to very powerful data, which offers the right insights to optimise and personalise the customer experience. Ultimately, achieving the unique customer view is a reflection of being a data-driven company, and, like many others, we still have work to do in this area.

CMO.com: How is your marketing team taking shape and what does it look like?
It is obviously an ongoing journey, and we are always looking at optimising and upgrading the digital marketing organisation. We need to attract more digital talent, invest more in our global marketing community, and integrate digital marketing much more deeply with other organisational functions. More people need to start thinking of marketing in a completely new way, from a completely different angle than it used to be viewed 20 years ago.

In some divisions, we have a more centralised model with a central marketing team. In other parts of the business, we have models where the local digital marketing teams are very mature and they don’t need much central support. Therefore, when it comes to digital transformation, it is more challenging to transform a decentralised marketing function with people in every single country around the world than to change a central marketing team.

For digital marketing expertise to reach the same level of maturity in every single country, it’s a lengthy and complicated process. The main role of the people in local markets is to support the various objectives of their country organisations and reach their country targets. It means that a global transformational agenda needs to fit with the local reality in every single country, and you can expect that the transformation won’t happen at the same speed and with the same depth everywhere.

Things are changing and evolving, and I think the way marketing departments look today and how they will look in the future is very different.

CMO.com: Where do the challenges lie in ensuring that digital isn’t siloed?
It starts with the fact that everyone needs to understand that they need to do digital, and that it is in every single job description, in every single function. You need to make sure that you develop the skillsets needed in the digital age across the whole organisation, and push new ways of working, so that these get adopted throughout the whole business.

The challenge we have, and the role we have, is finding the right approach in facilitating change for our employees, allowing them to be ready to deal successfully with the new digital world, rather than continuing to do things in the same way we have always done them.

Some people say: “I know very well what I have to do,” “I've been doing this for decades,” “I don’t have to change,” and that’s where it gets tricky. But, in the digital age, you can’t wait for your competitors to do something first and to show you how things can be done differently—and better. You have to try to get there yourself. We have to be proactive about adopting new ways of working.

CMO.com: How does the younger generation fit into DHL’s culture?
The key word here is, indeed, culture. DHL has a great culture and it keeps improving. When you operate on a global scale, you are surrounded by people with a global mindset—they're global citizens. This has also played a huge role so far in pushing the digital transformation programme to another level.

Digital is moving at such a fast pace. It’s so easy to be left behind. We have to make sure that we keep our eyes and our ears open to learn from the younger generation when it comes to the digital space. The expectations future employees have of their new employer are also completely different to those of previous generations. Organisations have to make sure that they remain relevant for future employees and, within DHL, the right foundations were put in place many years ago and the positive results are highly visible.

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