The Data Chief | Episode 24

Verizon's Radha Sankaran on personalizing customer experiences and improving frontline decision-making with data

Radha Sankaran

Executive Director of Algorithmic Customer Experiences


Current EpisodeEP24: Verizon's Radha Sankaran on personalizing customer experiences and improving frontline decision-making with data

Episode Overview

Today's guest is Radha Sankaran, the Executive Director of Advanced Analytics/AI and ML at Verizon. Radha is a technology executive with more than 24 years of hands-on leadership experience. She has a proven track record in fast-paced and quality-driven product delivery, and has led and managed high-performance teams in the telecom and wireless industry for 4G LTE, IoT, and 5G technologies.

Today, Radha joins Cindi to share that expertise. She and Cindi discuss the benefits of personalizing customer experience - including why personalization is Verizon's number one priority moving forward. Radha also shares her strategies for empowering frontline decision makers with data in a way that helps rather than overwhelms, how to protect customers’ privacy while putting their data to best use, and what women in tech should know to succeed and break the glass ceiling.

Enjoy that and more on today’s episode with Radha Sankaran.

Key Takeaways:

  • Get personal. Leverage data to view your customer’s journey from their perspective. Whether it’s email, SMS, chatbots, in store visits, or interacting with a call center, tie cross-channel experiences together seamlessly to create a positive and personalized experience.
  • But not too personal. Protecting customers’ data is at the core of everything Verizon does. When building personalized journeys, you have to find the balance between providing a valuable experience for your customer, while not overstepping their privacy in a way that feels invasive.
  • Empowering frontline employees with data. Compiling and sharing every data point with your team is not helpful. Rather than overwhelming frontline decision makers with mountains of data, distill need-to-know data in a way that’s easy to consume. For Radha, this means equipping her team with only the data needed to determine the next best actions (NBX) for serving customers.
  • Advice for girls and women in tech. "To all of those women and girls out there wanting to get into STEM, be bold. Don't let anything hold you back."

Key Quotes:

On Verizon's focus to improve the personalization of service by viewing it from a customer's perspective:

We want to be as famous for our experiences as we are for our network. ... Most of our experiences had been channel-based and channel-focused. ... That's where my role came into existence. The whole idea is how do we look at data and determine the right areas of opportunities and how can we truly personalize the one-to-one [experience] for our customers? ... We have something very similar for the B2B space, [but] what I am really focused on is from a consumer perspective. So when I say channels, I mean ... [how] our customers interact with us -- it could be via email, SMS, calling into our call centers, engaging with the app, engaging with our chatbox, [or] walking into a retail store. It could be any one of those.

How does Verizon achieve such personalization while still adhering to regulations like GDPR, CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), and CPRA (The California Privacy Rights Act ) and ensuring consumer privacy?

Privacy security ... is the core of what we do. Data that we have today ... [comes from] how customers are engaging with us. It's data about their journey. It's data about the experience in our network. It's data about their profile, their preferences -- which they have shared with us. It's merely leveraging different pieces of this data to create this holistic 360 for that customer. We want to be proactive ... [and address] those moments that matter -- be able to personalize it in a knowledgeable way, but not make it creepy!

How has Verizon overcome the channel challenge when it comes to data and CX?

I think the hardest one has been data; all our systems have been built up primarily with a [single] channel purpose. So the systems and the data from each of these systems flow in that same fashion. ... It's so important for us to be able to build that foundational customer 360 and be able to stitch all of these journey data across all of these channels that can tell us the events that are happening over time... We are very consciously building up this north star architecture, and as we build that out, we're laying out a foundational data architecture that allows us to gather all of this data and release stitches for these journeys.

What has been the role of cloud in facing these challenges, and what purpose does Radha see it fulfilling in the future?

Cloud is foundational for us in all of our systems. As we are migrating to this north star architecture, we are also migrating our systems to the cloud. We want to be able to ensure that as we migrate to the cloud, we also want to make sure that we have good resilience on premises… The cloud hybrid operating model will definitely be an ongoing process for us ... but we really want to ... migrate ... all of our BAU legacy systems into this new architecture by the end of 2021.

How has Radha's team been able to accomplish this in two years -- something many large companies estimate as a process that can take up to 10 years?

The team that my VP leads is focused on platform strategy. So while my team is primarily focused on the systems of insights and the centralized positioning platform as part of that north star architecture, I have my skills focused on that entire centralized experience platform layer. And then you have a team that's focused on all the engagement channels [and figuring out how] we bring these experiences together. ... This team's focus is the march towards getting there so that we can reap the benefits that we need to.

How does Radha's team align business outcomes without actually being able to predict the future?

For us to be able to measure NPS in a tangible fashion is not very easy. ... I can't say, 'If I make this change in my experience, it's going to result in an X percent increase.' So one of the things that we focus on is building out something called the quality experience core, which [is] just a leading indicator to NPS.

On the purpose and intended implementation of Verizon's AI marketplace currently in the works:

The AI marketplace is almost like an API store ... [formed by] the algorithms that we are building from the underlying data that we have. ... We are democratizing all the AI that we are building and ... personalized propositions that we are putting out there in our different channels. We want it to be out there [so] business teams can see what kinds of personalization [exist] and which channels we're offering. Each time the business team decides 'I need to offer this new proposition for our customers,' they know what's existing and they know they shouldn't replicate it.

On getting teams within the organization to work with -- rather than against -- one another:

I really want to call out our CXO ... the shadow she casts as a leader is really what helped us in this journey. For the first time, I've actually seen a business leader work together with an IT leader where the IT leader has a seat at the table, and you're working as true partners together because it's a shared success. ... In all the years that I have been in a technology organization, I [had] never really seen that happen, and I think that is what has helped diffuse a lot of the tension [and] allowed us to build out those roles and responsibilities.
There will always be creative friction between the two teams, but I think they [understand] the strengths that my organization brings to the table, [and] I am fully [aware of] what they bring to the table.

Research suggests businesses enjoy numerous benefits by empowering their frontline decision makers. How does Radha get these decision-makers to value and best utilize her department's data and AI resources?

Frontline employees [are] always overwhelmed with the amount of data we regurgitate and throw in front of them. ... My team ... is taking all of the insights and the data that we have about the customer and homing in on what is that next best action or the right next best offer, or the next best X -- whatever the NBX is for that customer.

As only one of four women to graduate from a technically-focused undergrad class of 72, what is Radha's advice to women who want to get involved in this field?

I'm going to be very honest. You can't be sensitive, because even in school, you raise your hand, you're ridiculed. You're made fun of. So you have to be bold. You have to be resilient. you have to be thick-skinned. ... To all of those women and girls out there wanting to get into STEM, be bold. Don't let anything hold you back.

Clarification: The California privacy statutes referred to in the episode are the "CCPA" and "CPRA."