Customer interviews: Christian Niederauer, Director of Strategic Insights & Consumer Affairs at Colgate-Palmolive

Published April 15, 2021·Written by Lucia Manetti

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In this edition of the Voice of the Customer, we welcome Christian Niederauer, Director of Strategic Insights & Consumer Affairs for Europe at Colgate-Palmolive.

Colgate-Palmolive is a Fortune 500 global consumer goods company based in the US with around 34,500 employees and revenue in 2020 of $16.5B, serving hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

With Christian, we talked about the relevance of customer feedback for the business nowadays, how and why Colgate-Palmolive became more customer-centric, with a particular emphasis on Wonderflow, and what became the outcome of this important decision.


Bram Weerts, Chief Customer Officer of Wonderflow: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. From 1 to 10, how important is your customers’ input to the decisions you make as a company today? 

First of all, we stopped talking about customers or consumers and now focus much more on “people”. We, like many peer companies, understand that while someone is consuming or using our products, at the same time is a parent, employee, user of other products or services. If we want to understand what they really need and tailor our offerings around that knowledge, we have to think about them holistically. As people centricity is a key success factor at Colgate-Palmolive I would put an 8 here.


Bram: What led your company to want to understand your customers better? Was it related to a particular event/decision?

As I have been only a bit less than 2 years with the company I can’t really pinpoint a particular event here. In general, I think it has been a gradual shift over time. About a decade ago quantifying things with data was the top priority, but what was missing was a deep understanding of how people interact with our brands and products. Whenever we achieve some kind of people closeness we gain true insights about how to enhance our products or create better innovations that solve real pain points.


Bram: What challenges did initially you face when transforming your company to a more customer-centric approach? 

A key challenge here is usually to make sure we capture all information – ideally in a single place and then give everyone access to it. In addition, the more information you collect the better you have to be in making sense out of it. Here it took us a while to find the right partners and leverage the right technology. To be fair we are still on that journey but have made quite some progress in the last couple of years. 


Bram: How has your way of working changed over the years? What changed after you started embedding customer feedback data into your company? Can you give us any examples? 

That is a difficult one. I think we also have been gathering feedback in some form, be it through quantitative research or by just listening to people who interact with our brands. What has changed more recently is how we use insights from social listening, ratings and reviews as well as our contact centers more systematically. Like mentioned before, we started to track all available sources regularly, as well as combining data points to create a holistic picture. By democratizing these insights across various functions and hierarchies we all got more people-centric in our decision-making. For insights in particular this also means that we are doing fewer ad-hoc projects, using more internal tools which enables us to answer questions quicker.


Bram: How do you see the future of consumer feedback in your company? What’s the next idea/frontier/technology you are looking forward to using to become even more consumer-centric?

For me, combining even more data sources and finding the right ways to mine the growing data lakes is an ongoing challenge. NLP and ML – just to drop a few buzzwords –  have become much better and the hope is that with them we become more accurate. That starts with the coding of verbatims or transcriptions, and goes all the way to the automatization of actionable recommendations taking our specific business context into account.


Bram: How do you see COVID (permanently) changing the ways of interacting with customers, and customer preferences and expectations? 

It’s still too early to tell, and if I knew I wouldn’t reveal it so that we could get a competitive edge. Overall, we all experienced a strong shift towards online channels which also forced us to think differently. People also realized that a lot of things are possible if we think they are really needed, and this means expectations are rising when it comes to necessary changes – like being more sustainable. 


Bram: Could you give one example of how your teams are currently using data from the Wonderboard?

After a successful pilot on one category, we are now just in the roll-out phase to a broader audience, with a wider array of categories. The vision is for Wonderflow to become our information system in which different functions regularly generate insights on their own, tailored to specific questions they have.


Bram:  Some of our clients share unique stories about the “ahh” moments and learnings that occurred when browsing the consumer feedback analysis in the Wonderboard. Do you have any to share with us?

Not yet, but I am sure if you ask me that question in 6 months, there will be plenty of stories to tell. Maybe there is one thing that can already be mentioned here. So far a lot of people’s feedback was handled by our Consumer Affairs team. They are traditionally thought of as the ‘complaints department’ and as such, this is how data has been captured, i.e. either complaints or praise or inquiries. When we started to build the backend of the Wonderboard and tailoring it to Colgate-Palmolive, we realized the technology used here does not see the data in this way, but rather it sees each topic more differentiated. For example, if someone were to say ‘I don’t like the fragrance of the new formula, but it stops my skin from itching’ we would have coded this data as a complaint. With Wonderflow we get more out of this one experience, so:
Negative: don’t like new fragrance
Positive: new formula stops itching.


Bram: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Christian.

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