In conversation with… Confirmit CEO Ken Ostreng
1. First off Ken tell us about your background and how you came to take over the role of Chief Executive Officer at Confirmit on April 1 this year?
Having spent over a decade as CFO at Confirmit, some would say it was a natural succession for me to become CEO when Henning announced he was stepping down. I worked very closely with Henning, the rest of the Executive Team, and the entire organisation, and of course had therefore acquired a deep and detailed understanding of the business, our customer landscape, and our industry as a whole.
As well as the purely financial side of things, my core area of focus during my time as CFO was business growth. This included identifying international acquisition targets and new incentives to help drive sales, both of which required a thorough understanding of the nuances of Voice of the Customer, Voice of the Employee and Market Research at a global level. With 10 offices in seven countries, and 90% of our revenue coming from outside the Nordic region, it’s essential for the leadership of our organisation to understand the regional variations across our industry, and the impact this has on our customers around the world.
Prior to my tenure at Confirmit, I worked my way up the steep, interesting and often challenging learning curve of finance and business. I worked in a number of finance positions at international organisations in the time leading up to IPO, including four years at the internet division of Telenor. This was a great way to get to grips with the intricacies of business finance and law and taught me invaluable lessons that I’ve carried with me throughout my career.
I’ve also worked for some truly inspiring financial leaders, some of whom I consider my best mentors – something I believe every business leader needs at every stage of their career. The combination of the experiences I’ve had and the leadership I’ve learnt from led to my first CFO position at the age of 32 – an achievement that set me in great stead when Confirmit approached me to become CFO in 2005.
Throughout all my roles, I have had a passion for understanding what drives businesses to succeed and what actions we can take to create a stronger, better business – something I’m firmly focused on in my new role.
2. You are quoted as saying your aim for the coming years at Confirmit is ‘evolution’ not ‘revolution’ – could you expand on exactly what that means?
What I mean by that is I will work with the entire Confirmit team to follow the focused path that we’re already moving along – delivering leading solutions and services that help our clients drive their businesses forward, whether they are focused on the customer experience, employee engagement, or Market Research.
We are continually evolving our software and solutions portfolio to ensure our customers can take advantage of the new channels, technologies and industry developments that affect them. We are not looking to divert from our core business here – we are proud of our longevity in the industry, and we rely on our extensive experience and the collective expertise of our teams to deliver the quality of solutions and services our clients have come to expect.
From an internal perspective, this evolution is all about ensuring the Confirmit team stays firmly aligned with the changing needs of our customers. We believe this relies on a positive business culture and the behaviour and attitude of our teams. We try to lead by example, and are proud of our strong record of employee tenure and commitment which makes a real difference to how we are perceived by our customers.
3. You have an expanding services and consulting organisation in support of your technology – how will that continue to evolve?
Our services and consulting organisation has evolved to ensure our customers can gain maximum benefit from their technology investment. This is particularly true for customers who are trying to push the boundaries of VoC, VoE or Market Research by using new ways of gathering, sharing and analysing feedback and applying it to their business strategies to drive growth or culture change.
I see this is a continual process of evolution, working hand-in-hand with a maturing CX market. As customer confidence grows in executing really quite sophisticated programmes, so our services infrastructure will adapt to meet their changing requirements. Services and consulting are all about working to support our customers and delivering the capabilities they need, when they need it. It’s therefore a natural and complementary element of our business, rather than a separate area of focus.
4. What’s your view on the relationship between Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee, and how far is technology helping link the two for the benefit of our colleagues and our customers?
At Confirmit, we’ve always maintained that VoC and VoE are intrinsically linked – you could say they are two sides of the same coin. Traditionally, customers and employees have been treated entirely separately, and data gathered from each has often been siloed and acted upon by different business departments, often with contrasting agendas.
Today’s customer-facing organisations are becoming much more ‘savvy’ – recognising that employee engagement has a direct and measurable impact on customer experience, and that improving the employee experience naturally leads to more engaged, profitable customers.
As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of businesses wanting to marry the two elements. One way is through what we call VoCE (Voice of the Customer through the Employee), which generates insight about customers’ experiences and their journeys by gathering feedback from employees in a way that aligns with customer experience initiatives.
Other Confirmit customers are using the actionable insights they’re gaining from their Voice of the Customer programmes to entirely rewrite the way they train employees – from the back office to the front line. This is because they’re recognising that the culture and attitude of their staff directly influence the experience received by the customer.
Both approaches are helping organisations to close the loop of feedback for both customers and employees, and empowering staff to do the right thing for stronger, more profitable customer engagement.
We certainly see technology as a key enabler here. New, sophisticated feedback gathering and analysis tools are allowing businesses to collect and understand data from different channels and audiences in a way that wasn’t previously possible. And that is of course what Confirmit’s technology facilitates.
But this move is about much more than technology – it’s about changing business attitudes, and a growing understanding of the link between an organisation and its customers. This is being helped hugely by the capabilities of new technologies, but also by the collective minds of VoC and VoE specialists who are working to educate businesses about combined employee and customer strategies, and implementing methodologies to make the theories a reality.
5. Finally Ken, what major developments and innovations do you envisage in this dynamic marketplace over the next five years and how will Confirmit fit into and impact on this rapidly changing landscape?
The pace of change in just about every aspect of our industry can make it hard to predict the future, but of course we need to anticipate the ‘next big thing’ for our customers. Somewhat ironically, we see one of the main developments as being the ability for organisations to predict the future!
What we mean by this is an increasing reliance on predictive analytics – allowing organisations to move beyond analysing what has already happened and towards understanding the indicators deep within customer experience that can predict impacts on customer, operational and financial metrics.
We also expect to see a continual ‘blurring of lines’ between channels, data and metrics. Whether we’re talking about Voice of the Customer or Market Research programmes, the focus will be on building a holistic view of feedback that can deliver the necessary insight to drive action and change within an organisation. This will bring about increasing cross-functional collaboration, sharing and communication, and as a result is likely to elevate the CX discussion to a fully strategic level.
Of course, we see Confirmit as a leader in this evolution, with our finger firmly on the pulse of industry change. We were delighted to be named a leader in Forrester’s Q2 2017 Customer Feedback Management Platforms Report and we fully intend to build on this leadership position to continue driving the industry forward.