Host: Marco Oliver, Client Success Director, WBB.
Guest: Pete Gatenby, Client Services Director, B60.
Marco Oliver: Well firstly Pete, thank you very much for joining us on The Botcast today. How are you?
Pete Gatenby: Yes, thank you. I’m good, thanks. Happy to be here and looking forward to the chat.
MO: Good. I’m looking at your work history and it looks like you have a relatively unusual route to being a client services director at B60. Can you maybe just give us a bit of background on what you’ve done previously and what has led you to be the client services director?
PG: Yes, absolutely. My background was actually brand and brand marketing. I was working at Johnson & Johnson for a period and then post that I actually set up my own little agency at the beginning of mobile becoming, I suppose, the big deal within digital. The theory was that I can do some quite cool and exciting things while actually facilitating somewhat of a lifestyle that I wanted to have at the time. Which was a lot of travel around the world and I had an opportunity to play rugby in New Zealand and I wanted to facilitate all that while keeping my finger in something a little bit more adult, shall we say.
But then following that, returning back to the UK, I got a call from Chris Williams, the founder and CEO of B60, who said look, do you want to come and do this in a little bit more a grown-up way? B60 at the time was right at the beginning of quite a new start-up really and I came in and sat in a bit of a hybrid seat between sales originally but then I also branched out into marketing quite quickly. My digital experience to date and the natural flare for strategy meant that I started picking up the consulting side of things as well.
So, I began to own each of those little three individual areas in isolation but all sat underneath me. And then as we grew and the strategy side of the business really began to take off, I took charge of that. So, underneath me sits the consulting team and those guys we have deployed either on prem with clients or sitting in our head office on individual projects really. So, they all sit under me and that’s my remit.
MO: Okay. That’s interesting. Before we get into the technical side of things, was it rugby league or rugby union that you played?
PG: I’ve played both in my life but coming from Yorkshire, I grew up playing rugby league. So, I always had a natural rugby league brain, although I’ve played rugby union at a relatively good standard – but it was rugby league I was playing in New Zealand. In the Fox Prem level, which is one level below the NRL so our league actually filtered into the Auckland Warriors. Not that I ever got to that level but, it was good fun playing with some Kiwi boys and a lot of Irelanders - they were big boys and it was good fun.
MO: That’s interesting actually. I’d be over the moon to be able to do that. I was a rugby union player myself but amateur level, I should say. But yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also, I’ve heard a rumour that you got shot in Bolivia, so I just thought I’d address that before we went any further. Obviously, Lucy’s very good at doing her research. Do you want to shed a bit of light on that?
PG: Yes. So, after my time of playing rugby in New Zealand I actually ended up with tickets to the football World Cup, in Brazil. I began my venture to find my way to Brazil from New Zealand, which took me through South America and into Bolivia before hopping across the border into Brazil. At the time though there was quite a bit of political unrest in Bolivia, so me and a few other ‘gringos’, as they would call us, had stumbled into a protest on the outskirts of the town as we were trying to move towards Brazil. And yes, they took a little bit of exception to that and fired a few warning shots our way, none of which hit us but I definitely wasn’t hanging around to find out what was the cause of said warning shots.
We quickly exited in the opposite direction with our bags on our backs. After a bit of an out of breath run later, we found our way to a bus that took us away, which was quite handily sat waiting for us which was nice. But yes, a thrilling and somewhat of an exciting experience I don’t ever want to repeat, to be honest with you.
MO: I don’t blame you.
PG: It’s definitely a story that I’ve been dining on for a while now.
MO: I’m not surprised. It’s a pretty interesting story. I wouldn’t be going back to Bolivia in a hurry if that had happened to me.
PG: No. Stunning place but yes, it was a different experience.
MO: Well, you’re the first person to appear on The Botcast who’s been shot at, so that’s a first. Okay, so let’s get into what B60 is and what the company do. Can you give us a B60 overview?
PG: Yes. So, B60 – in a sentence, we are management consultancy and tech delivery agency. We specialise in digital transformation but have evolved as the digital world has evolved and very much offer the services in management consultancy around digital. Whether that’s digital strategy, very much heavying up digital transformation now and the culture of change because that’s a big thing that a lot of our clients are struggling with.
Enterprises across the country are really struggling to facilitate that change and how to really leverage a culture that allows for digital evolution at a rapid rate to, I suppose, protect themselves from upstarts, because if you take FinTech for an example, one of our big clients is Santander and what they’re really struggling with is facilitating that speed of change. Then you’ve got the likes of Monzo, Revolut and Starling in the market who are just evolving at a rapid rate and the whole financial market is just in fear of the speed of development of these upstarts that are well funded and are really just beginning to cannibalise certain areas of the market.
It’s a fascinating space, we also do technology delivery - we have developers who are sat in our head office developing solutions and that ranges everything really from, I suppose, we still do mobile which was really where we began to cut our teeth, but also all the way through to emerging tech when it comes to AR, VR or voice. We’ve been involved in projects like that as well and often work collaboratively with a lot of the other agencies in that way.
MO: That’s interesting. From what I’ve read online and the research we’ve done, I think one of the things you say is that you help conceptualise ideas and test and fail fast to make it successful. Can you maybe give a view of how you fail fast, what that means and how you approach it?
PG: Yes, absolutely. Well, I suppose the concept of fail fast, for anyone who’s listening and isn’t necessarily aware of that, is very much about creating an environment in which you can test concepts and allow for a safe environment to fail and celebrate those failures. What we know is from any walk of life really, if you fail you learn a lot more than if you succeed for two reasons. One, you analyse things a lot better even when you fail to understand why. Second of all, it means you’ve tried something that hasn’t necessarily worked and that either that’s never going to work or that can be tweaked to allow it to work in the future.
We find with a lot of larger enterprises who’ve been around for a long time, kind of, 50 years plus really, is that they’re so ingrained in what is a culture of success and continuing that success and facilitating growth or ensuring their position within the market, that failure is almost a complete taboo. And they will shy away from, for example, pushing a technology product live or pushing a test live if they think it may fail.
What we’re working with a lot of our clients to do, is to create an environment in which failure is celebrated. And that the right culture exists when failure happens, that the learnings are taken and then applied so that the next time there’s a marginal gain or a step change in terms of success, moving towards success and moving towards the goal.
It’s something that’s really helped B60 to accelerate and move towards where we are today. And actually, when we see clients embracing that, they make headway at a phenomenal pace because their rate of learning is just improved massively. And actually, it creates a culture within their own teams that allows for innovation if that’s what they’re looking to do, and allows for progress much more so than if that’s frowned upon. So that’s really what we try and work with a lot at the moment.
It’s a hot topic because when you’re working with execs who’ve often lived through the ‘90s and definitely have worked through the noughties where they’ve seen booms and crashes, there’s very much a fear of their own position. And we live in an economy at the moment where people are still fearful of their position and therefore fearful of failure. But actually, the progress is really seen when that failure is allowed to happen in a safe and controlled environment.
If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
MO: That makes perfect sense. I’m not entirely sure who said the quote but you’ve just reminded me. I think it was Reid Hoffman maybe. But I think the quote is, if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. And I think that’s always a good quote when looking at something like this. Obviously, it depends on who the customer is as well. It depends on what the product is. If you’ve got a banking product that you release and then someone’s information is compromised, you’re going to be in a world of trouble.
PG: One of my colleagues, our CTO actually, Mustafa, he’s got a favourite phrase when he’s talking to the tech team back at base, which is very much like, look guys, let’s not allow best to be the enemy of better. Because sometimes if you’re striving for that perfect product you hinder progress and you will never get to that next step. And you’re absolutely right, I’m sure that’s a quote from somewhere. Someone along the line who’s said it and who’s a great market thinker, but it’s definitely a philosophy that rings true in the digital world and the technology world.
MO: I’ve just done a quick Google search while you were talking then and it is Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, who said that. It’s a seriously interesting point because I think you’re right, people are so obsessed with getting everything right first time that it can sometimes take too long to get something out or you hit a load of problems.
Lucy’s managed to find some interesting facts for us, and one of them is that 62% of businesses surveyed by Forbes said that delivering an excellent customer experience as measured by customer satisfaction scores defines success as a digital-first business. So, how do you see the next five years playing out in the world of customer experience, especially around the development of chatbots, AI and voice assistants? Have you had any thoughts in terms of your company and maybe your personal experiences of where that’s going to go?
PG: Yes. So, I think it’s an interesting one because the rate at which customers or end users are evolving in their understanding and acceptance of the technology, is actually moving much quicker than the businesses that may use these are doing. So, if we take an example of maybe six months ago of a web chatbot that would answer questions online for a utilities business of some description. Now the potential for users right now to use that and be comfortable with speaking to an automated chatbot is a thousand times more advanced than it was even just six months ago. The rate of acceleration is just incredible. And this is really being driven by some of the upstarts, the well-funded ones.
As an example, a business that I’ve referenced to previously; Revolut, have been pioneering this within the Fintec space and what they’ve done is created an automated chatbot that talks to you - I think it’s called Rita or something like that and then seamlessly passes you onto an actual human customer advisor at a point when the algorithm can no longer answer the customer’s questions. To a point, it almost feels like they’re having a conversation with the human and not a chatbot. Now, there are points at which it’s very obviously a chatbot, but it’s ever-evolving. And the way they’re pushing it out and the way they’re constantly evolving it and where they’re beginning to use artificial intelligence to allow the chatbot to learn what questions are being asked repeatedly means that it’s just evolving all the time.
I remember back at the beginning at the summer, around June or July and I was actually affected by this. They have quite a big problem with downtime from payments. And I was out in Spain with my other half and we were trying to pay for something and the payment went down so I had to use my standard HSBC credit card to pay for something. I thought that’s weird. So, I jumped on to the chat and immediately asked the question of which the answer came back - ‘Yes, this is what’s causing it and this is what we’re doing to facilitate’.
Looking back at how the chatbot handled that, it was very much a learned response because then when the question was asked later on in the day, their customer excellence team had clearly jumped on and created a much more substantial answer to push out as a bit of a Mark Holmes communication piece. But the AI had already learned an answer by the time I’d asked the question. It was quite an interesting use of the technology really and I think it’s something that’s ever-evolving and I think that in the next five years we’ll see a real move mainstream for that approach, i.e. chatbots handling 90/95% of the questions from clients.
They’re always learning off the customer questions that are coming in and the answers that are given by humans so that the number of customer advisors that are required just reduces, and those that are required are almost subject matter experts and are much more highly trained individuals who can handle a much higher level of question that’s almost got through the chatbot gatekeeper, as it were. But whether that will be a seamless transition into a human experience or whether that will be much more of a dictated – that’s an interesting debate at the moment. I think it will move towards the transitional sync where us as the customer are not sure and aware of when it happens.
MO: Yes. I mean, it’s quite interesting because from a technical standpoint I’d be interested to find out whether it was AI that it learned that response from or a number of responses from the customer service agent. Or whether it was hit in API which would allow them to have a CRM which allowed them to manage downtime and would then give a tailored response. It’s quite interesting when you dive into how it can potentially be happening, it would be quite interesting to find out what they were actually doing because learned AI, so machine learning and going in that direction, is far more advanced than the kind of thing that we can do now quite well which is hitting an API and things like that. So, yes, it’s an exciting prospect for the future definitely, Just to wrap it up a little bit, you said you work with quite a few start-ups. So, out of all the companies you’ve worked with, what is the biggest digital transformation that you’ve seen at B60 that you would be able to talk about?
PG: Yes, absolutely. So, start-ups are always a really interesting one to work with because what they’ve got is a mentality that they’ve got nothing to lose. And so, what happens is when they’re cracking on with their business, as it were, they will test things and try things and almost put their “brand” at more risk than a larger organisation would. There’s a book actually which is called ‘The Lean Startup’ which explores this hugely and why this is a successful. A fascinating book that I recommend everyone should read it, whether they work for a large corporate or just starting out, really.
MO: We’ll put a link in the bio for the episode.
PG: Perfect. Yes, do definitely because it’s a great read or listen if you’re on the audible bus. But what we find is working with some of the start-ups – we work with one particular one called Irate at the moment which is a fascinating organisation who actually operate in the sporting arena and the iterations that they’re going through and the speed at which they’re iterating on their ideas and testing things in the market – they’ve got a really nice little closed loop test sandbox environment that they operate within, I suppose, their local community. I can’t go into too much for obvious reasons due to NDAs but what we find is that those iterations of the learnings at which they have at a very rapid rate are incredible. And their rate of evolution is so fast that their acceleration towards mass market adoption and as they begin to go through the investment and all of that – history shows that those learnings are almost more valuable than the revenue line in the PNL, as it were.
If we then start to apply that to our large corporate clients who apply the same mentality – we’ve got the likes of JD Sports, for example, who had this out there idea of seeing if we could engage our customers outside of the store because we know TV’s not really cutting it anymore.
Could we potentially engage them outside of store in a different way? Well, let’s start testing things. And someone had the concept of well, I wonder if a radio feed would work, like, our own branded radio feed. Of which we said yes. You can test it relatively quickly just by dropping it into your app. So, we built that, dropped that in and then suddenly the iterations that happened following that were just incredible. We’re on probably the third or fourth iteration now of gradual features being added and the traction that’s been gained without a whole lot of budget really being assigned to it in the grand scheme of things is just incredible.
There’s loads of examples but yes, the principle and mentality of behaving a little bit like a start-up in the fact that you’ll rapidly test and then deploy things. Or even – and this is obviously what a lot of larger businesses are really beginning to do, is create an innovation unit that don’t necessarily report on the traditional KPIs. They report on almost a learning KPI of how much have we learnt? And that factors back into that fail fast discussion that we were having before.
MO: Yes, it’s just taking a slightly different approach, isn’t it? A lot of big corporates, for example, will sometimes plan something for a good year and you’re saying just try it. Why not try it and see what happens? Which is quite a fresh approach.PG: Yes, absolutely. I was speaking to a client yesterday who was talking about an RFI process or an RFP process, obviously a request for a proposal or a quote essentially. And they were talking about how it was going to take them nine months from selecting a supplier to actually beginning work on what was a digital transformation programme.
The mentality of slow and steady wins the race is now losing the race because that slow and calculated approach to things is becoming detrimental to organisations.
MO: Yes, that’s understandable. So, obviously you’re talking about quick and slow transformations. Through your experience, what would you class as a quick transformation?
PG: Well look, startups can iterate as quickly as they want because they don’t have the same governance procedures so they’re typically iterating on two-weekly cycles. If you’re a large business, a good KPI is to be able to iterate in around four to five weeks. So, on a product you’re iterating a digital programme of some description, is rating every four to five weeks. Once a month typically. I think that’s the good benchmark for are we going at a good pace or not? Because it’d be great if we could get every organisation to iterate every two weeks but there’s practicalities and you’re trying to turn a bit of an oil tanker really. It’s not a nimble chain.
MO: So, do you see people using the agile approach and having, like you say, two-weekly sprints and four-weekly sprints and stuff like that? Is that how they operate? Or do they do it in a whole host of different ways when they’re doing these things?
PG: Yes. It’s a whole host of different ways really. But the most successful are those that lean towards the agile principles and have a head of prioritisation at the point of the sprint beginning. Too many organisations adopt much more of ‘wagile’ – so, a cross between waterfall and agile where they define all their requirements way in advance and they report them back into the board and get approval for a certain allocation of budget. And therefore, have to deliver on what they’ve said even though everybody who’s on the project actually knows that what’s being delivered isn’t going to deliver the most value that it could, but because that’s what’s being defined so early on and signed off. I guess they almost have to deliver that before they can re-prioritise and it’s just a really counter intuitive way of doing it.
The much more intelligent way of doing it is going well look, we know we want to achieve this sort of direction which is an improvement in X area – I don’t know, an improvement in sales, just for argument’s sake. At the beginning of every sprint we’re going to look at what possible things we can implement and what’s going to add the most value at the time. Do those first because if you define those six/seven months in advance, the world’s changed. The digital world’s changed. The trends that are going to be driving users or consumers or whoever it may be at that point are going to be completely different to what they were six/seven months ago.
PG: I think it’s important to always bear that in mind because you can’t possibly plan that far in advance anymore.
MO: That’s very true. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with most of that. I think one of the things you pointed out for anyone doing this – we find exactly the same when we’re building our chatbots and processes. It’s having clear milestones and understanding what you’re trying to achieve every time you do something. You shouldn’t be doing anything for the sake of doing it and you shouldn’t also take a long time to do something if it doesn’t need to take a long time. It can be broken down to something as simple as that, can’t it, I think?
PG: Yes, absolutely.
MO: Well, that’s been great Pete, thank you so much for speaking to us. Much appreciated. One of the things we ask everyone is, if you had to live with only one app on either your computer or your iPhone, it can be either device, but you’re not allowed to use any other apps, which one would you choose and why?
PG: Do you know what, this might be a bit of a cliché answer but I am fully on the Fintech bandwagon at the moment – a big supporter of Revolut, I think it’s because of how easy it is when I’m travelling. And the only app when I’m away that I really need to work is my Revolut app, in fairness it never breaks. I’d say that one. It’s not particularly interesting but if you’re going to ask me one on a slightly more interesting side, i.e. to entertain myself, I don’t know if you’ve ever used HQ?
PG: Bit of a quiz app.
MO: It’s brilliant, yes. Twice a day every day, isn’t it?
PG: Yes. If I’m ever in the office, I stop the entire office that are surrounding me so that we can all play on my phone. I’m yet to win anything yet but hey, you never know.
MO: Yes. The format for anyone who hasn’t actually used it, you get – I think it’s 16 questions, isn’t it?
MO: And every round if you get a question wrong you’re out of the race, but if you get the question right you move on to the next round and whoever’s left wins the pot of money at the end. It can be varying pots of money which is always interesting. On the big pots you can tell people are starting to get quite nervous about winning it.
PG: A funny story really quickly. I was actually interviewing someone a few weeks ago and I can’t remember why it came up but HQ came up. We were just finishing up, just a nudge before three. And so, as his final little interview task I said well, I tell you what, let’s play HQ together and we’ll see who gets furthest. And if you beat me – you get offered a job. So, there’s a story in life there.
MO: Yes. Beat the person you want to work for on a quiz app and you can get the job. I like the sound of that. On the Revolut app actually, I use that a lot and I love it. It’s changed the way that I travel – obviously one of the things I think with that app is that when you used to have to go and change your cash before you went, they would charge you to draw it out and then it was a bit of a nightmare, but they make it so easy, you can see stuff as you buy it, which is great. And also, they’ve added cryptocurrencies now, although that is a volatile market so I’m trying to stay away from that at the moment. But yes, they’re always making changes and they’re trying to stay up on trends, which is great.
PG: Yes. They’re a fascinating business. One to be a customer, and one just from a market observation standpoint, absolutely fascinating.
MO: Yes, definitely. Well, thank you Pete, and all the best with everything you’re doing at B60. And hopefully we’ll speak to you again in the future.
PG: Yes, hopefully so. We’ll catch up soon and go for a beer.