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How I made it: Subhash Mishra, Head of Digital Strategy, FirstGroup

How I made it featuring Subhash Mishra, Head of Digital Strategy at FirstGroup

Hanson Search steps inside the world of FirstGroup to interview their Head of Digital Strategy, Subhash Mishra, for its inspiring career series. Subhash shares his passion for the digital world, the importance of a great team, and what he believes it takes to be successful in the industry today. 

How did you find yourself in the digital industry?

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve worked in digital throughout my entire career. I started off working in strategy consulting, working across a range of challenges in multiple sectors. I quickly realised that it was the digital part that excited me the most.

What was it about digital that you liked so much?

Things move incredibly quickly and getting it right is a mixture of science and an art. For example, analysing marketing attribution is rather data-driven, but understanding the emotional intent of the customer – especially for topics like user experience or customer service is as much art as it is science. There’s also a really good mix of people working across all levels within digital, which makes things fun!

What three pieces of advice would you give to ensure a great customer experience in 2019?

A key consideration is developing the underlying organisational culture and process to adapt to customer needs and wants. This isn’t an easy process – people at all levels of an organisation need to make the customer the top priority during the decision-making process. However, it’s an approach that improves commercial performance rather effectively.

Customer journey mapping is something many organisations should consider investing in.  It helps organisations to really understand customer needs; and to ultimately prioritise opportunities to increase customer satisfaction, increase revenue and reduce costs at each stage of their customer’s journey.

Having shared KPIs between departments helps to break down the silos, and to get different teams to work towards a common vision. 

We’ve seen a lot of change within a relatively short period within digital. In the course of your career, what would you say have been the most significant changes you’ve seen across the industry?

1)   The increased focus on customer-centricity. It continues to gain momentum in the boardroom – and understandably so – as customer expectations continue to rise. Customers want to get what they want, when they want, via their desired channel; and believe that companies have their needs at the forefront during every interaction

2)   Digital is no longer seen as a bolt-on to existing departments (e.g. marketing, customer service, propositions) but rather as an integral part of them

3)   Digital natives are now occupying executive positions in industry, they have an innate comfort with digital having grown up with it – and are driving increased expectations around performance from digital channels.

What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome in the course of your career?

First Rail was a very interesting challenge as it has four different subsidiaries, each with its own digital team, website and app. When I joined three years ago, there were a number of strategic, commercial and customer challenges.

My challenge was to get four subsidiary companies, who hadn’t always collaborated in the past, to align with a common digital strategy and common roadmap. Another challenge was to ensure that these businesses adopted a more agile and customer-centric culture – one that would proactively identify and deliver opportunities to grow the business and improve customer experience.

With a lot of hard work from everyone involved, I’m proud to stay that we have achieved industry-leading customer satisfaction and driven strong revenue growth; and have a more collaborative but driven culture.  

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

I’d say that if your idea’s good enough then you’re old enough. I was 26 when I first led the end to end creation and delivery of my own digital products and revenue streams but in hindsight, I could have started that sooner.  If you’ve spotted a compelling opportunity – then build that business case, consult with your stakeholders; and then pitch for funding and deliver your vision.

What do you think it takes to be successful in 2019?

To be able to take colleagues on a journey with you as a leader. To do this, you have to articulate clearly what your overall vision and strategy stands for. To articulate what will success look like, and how will it be delivered. Your colleagues need to be involved in co-creating this strategy so that they feel a sense of ownership and are committed to delivering it.

You also need to have a huge amount of ambition for yourself and your team. After the first year that we delivered growth at First Rail, we couldn’t rest on our laurels because we recognised that customer expectations continued to rise and our competitors were becoming more sophisticated. So, while we can celebrate success, we have to ask what the next level looks like and how we push ourselves to get there.

Curiosity is key. I look at customer trends and also best practices from companies from multiple sectors. Often, you’ll find that companies from different countries and sectors may be working on similar challenges to you (e.g. personalisation).

What do you think it takes to be a great leader in the digital space?

You need to communicate your strategy clearly and be transparent with your team as to what their individual roles are so that there is no ambiguity. Each team member needs to feel accountable and to know how their own objectives, targets and milestones benefit the wider business. 

For me, leadership is a collaborative process. I like to co-create strategy and implementation plans with my team and other stakeholders. It’s more enjoyable and effective as everyone feels a sense of ownership. I also enjoy having fun with my colleagues, there’s usually time for that (most days!)

What do you think is the biggest challenge which the digital industry is going to face over the next few years?

Speed of response: to the customer, to what a competitor is doing, or a technological trend.  The challenge is how quickly can you turn an insight - a trend in customer behaviour or a competitor move - into an action? The bar for agility seems to increase every year. It’s also about being ever more customer-centric.

Also, managing the balance between long-term and short-term financial and customer objectives. Ultimately, it’s about prioritising the opportunities which improve customer satisfaction - and drive commercial performance.

Name one technology – other than your mobile phone – that you couldn’t live without?

My Amazon Echo helps me wake up to some good music before I drag myself to the gym!

There’s much debate around the future of work and the needs of a team – what do you think is key to the growth of a successful team and a positive working environment?

It’s so important for a team to have a good attitude and work ethic. This helps them to collaborate better and continually push the bar upwards.

Also, it’s nice to have fun together as a team, to celebrate your successes and enjoy what you do!

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