This interview has originally been published in Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Agencies Report. Download the full report here.
Peter Veash has been voted the ‘most influential’ figure by his peers in this year’s Top 100. Econsultancy Editor Ben Davis caught up with him to find out more about his work.
Perhaps fittingly, in a year when the Top 100 report tackles such disparate and complex subjects as AI, psychology and existentialism (what is an agency to be?), Veash speaks with directness and clarity about his business. The fact that he answered my questions for this interview whilst driving a car and placating a canine passenger was impressive, too.
Beyond user-centric design
I asked Veash what distinguishes BIO’s approach. His reply was that BIO makes “a prediction before the work goes live as to how it’s going to change revenues and NPS, and I think that puts us in a relatively unique place in the industry.”
To put this into context, BIO is a customer experience-led digital transformation agency, so it does a wide variety of work but a large part is user-centred design of digital experiences. As with many specialisms, there can be an element of dogmatism to user centred design, something that clients have to some extent embraced, too (how many times have we heard marketers talk about “putting customers at the heart of what we do”?). Veash explains how this user-centricity is not enough on its own.
“We’ve changed our methodology,” he says. “The long version is we believe there’s a big industry issue that everyone is very user-centric, which is the correct way to be, but just meeting user needs alone doesn’t necessarily mean digital transformation is going to impact digital KPIs. Nobody is addressing that in the industry, globally.
“We’ve taken the last year to work out how we stitch together the business case, all the way through, to make sure before we do any work and it goes live, we have a view on how it’s going to shift NPS and revenue. It’s more accountable.”
Veash went as far as to describe agencies as “an unaccountable world.”
As for how exactly BIO makes these predictions, its founder talks of analysing customer journeys using “a central platform that can see what’s going on in real time, [allowing us to] start to model what we’re going to do and its impact.”
It makes sense that the agency pushes this accountability, given that transformation projects fail more often than not. Veash cites a McKinsey study from 2015, which found that three quarters of business transformation programmes do not achieve their stated goals.
Defining the digital agency
In the current landscape where digital agencies face unprecedented competition from consultancies and marketers are increasingly in-housing some digital disciplines, I asked Veash how BIO’s way of working stacks up against the competition. His take was a simple one.
“Strategy consultancies would typically be good at business casing and operational strategy, but they’re less good at actually bringing that to life. Then design consultancies and experience consultancies are very good at creating something that provides a great customer experience but they don’t often tie back to business metrics. Then you’ve got technology agencies that can bring in the tech but they don’t tie back to the customer experience.
“What we believe we’re doing for the first time is tying together strategy with experience design and technology.”
As someone who does not have a background in agency land, this is compelling in its simplicity. Furthermore, BIO’s two-prong proposition detailed on its website makes a lot of sense – digital innovation (creating products, services, experiences) and digital transformation (looking at the whole business, from operations to tech to culture).
Veash adds that length of engagement with clients is increasing and that alongside a customer experience (CX) team, BIO has an employee experience (EX) team.
“We’re having to make changes internally to make sure the project is realised in the way it should be. We’ve had a couple of examples where we are hired not only to deliver a digital product and transformation, but also to agitate the organisation so it works in a different way.
“…Sometimes you need a bit of a sledgehammer to force change. As a result, we have hired EX specialists.”
I asked Veash about BIO’s current challenges, particularly about other new roles the agency has recruited for. One new specialism he stressed was psychology.
“We’ve brought a psychological approach into the business, because we’re changing the way we understand customers from doing personas to really understanding psychological profiling. That’s a shift for us.
“When we think of customer experience, psychologists don’t exist in that field today, so we’re learning from them in all kinds of different sectors, such as health. They’ve done seven years of training and we want to open up this world for them for the first time.”
Veash adds that drawing on psychology is new for the industry and “not typically the way people operate today in our sector.”
Attraction and retention
Discussing agency culture with Veash, he highlighted two main issues. Firstly, “a change in the way people want to work.”
“People are less concerned about full time, and more and more people are choosing freelance work for flexibility. As a business, you have to adjust to that and understand it.”
Veash says he is open-minded about the workforce:
“We’ve changed the way we offer holidays, the way we give breaks in careers, to make it the right place to work. A place people want to come to.”
Part of attracting and retaining staff is BIO’s offer of a “significant learning and development budget,” which Veash says is “not so common in our industry."
He adds, “We are 100% focused on training our teams. When I was growing up working in the industry, it was more about learning on the job, but consultancies, for example, don’t do that.”
This is perhaps a revealing comment. Speaking to Veash, I got the impression of more structure and processes in place at BIO – a maturing of their model, which balances product expertise and ideas with business acumen, leading to greater cultural embedding with clients. Digital agencies are all dealing with these changes in the market as businesses realise digital is less about the next best tech and more about finding the right strategic partner.
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