Putting your customers front and center – An interview with Matteo Penzo

Published on — Written by Wonderflow

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If you enjoy this type of videos, subscribe to Riccardo Osti’s channel in YouTubeToday we are joined by Matteo Penzo. Matteo is an entrepreneur and executive at global design and strategy firm frog. He has over 20 years of experience in helping clients execute and develop their vision across a wide variety of sectors. Matteo has a strong vision in the process of developing new products and services and guiding enterprises in this process. We invited him to talk about innovation, becoming a champion of change in an organization, turning naysayers into advocates, and much more.

Can you give us an introduction about yourself, your role at frog, and how you got to where you are now?

I am an executive director at frog EMEA where I lead the technology teams. We have several studios in Europe, and I am responsible for the strategy and execution parts related to bringing our digital products to life. It can be hardware products, like tangible products you can touch. But it can also be a digital product. Nevertheless, my team is responsible for making it real and bringing it to the market. 

What is the ideal project to be involved in for you?

The center of passion is where bits and atoms collide, so it’s where we can work on the physical design of the product, its shape, and how it feels in your hand. But also on the digital layer, which is not just what happens in the product, but the entire customer experience. From purchasing the product to unboxing and then using the product and then, hopefully, changing and improving your life by using it. Do these wide-scale projects focus on creating new initiatives from scratch or improving existing products as well? 

I would say both. Usually, our clients involve us because they have a big unknown they need to solve. It can be a new market that they need to address with an existing product, or it could be a news target audience for a current product. Or, and that’s the majority of the cases, it can be an entirely new business, a wholly new market, targeting an entirely new audience. This could range from helping IKEA entering the home automation market all the way to launching new telcos from scratch in Saudi Arabia, targeting youths and the Millennial generation. 

Targeting new markets or audiences, do you usually do that with an existing team, or do organizations bring a group of people together? 

I would say both. When our clients involve frog, it’s because they need either to build up an entirely new skill set within an organization, or they need to complement something that already exists or could be forming. Or, in many cases, we enter a project with no UX team present, and we help the client build the UX capabilities, processes, helping them understand how to put the user at the center. Can you talk a little bit more about how these projects typically start? What is the first step you have to take? 

We believe that our clients know their businesses much better than us. We enter the projects with a lot of humility; we are not there to teach them about their companies; we are there to learn. 

So, we do two things. We start by immersing ourselves in their organizations and how they build their products. And then we start understanding both how they do things, but also what the gaps are between how they do things, and how we believe things should be done. And then we do another thing, which is very peculiar to our innovation process, which is: we start learning about their users. And we start learning about their users and their customers from themselves. We run stakeholder interviews, workshops, executive program stakeholders, and customers too. We start observing as an ethnologist would do, the relationship between the product and the customer, the product and the stakeholder, the customers, and the stakeholders. 


Then we move our teams on the field, independently from the geography of the client and the type of product. We always want to immerse our teams into the customers’ life, not just to understand what the customer thinks about the product, not just how they use it; we want to observe them in their scenarios. So, we usually visit them in their offices, if it’s an office product, or in their homes or a shop. We listen to what they say about the product, and we observe how they use the product.For example, many happy customers truly believe they love their product and that the product is improving their lives, but when you see them interacting with it, you see them sweating. You see them saying it is very easy to set up, and then they always need to take the user manual to understand how to set it up. Or they say it is easy and requires no stress, and then they are all red in their faces and nervous with their veins showing because it is stressful to build up a product. This is very interesting for us because it means that there are challenges that are entirely invisible to our clients, but they are still there. 


The customers are not aware of these issues, but that does not mean that the product should not be improved. For example, we were working with this telco in the Middle East, and they have a very successful point-based program running with clients. So, the more you spend, the more points you get and the more goods you can buy for free, for example, devices or upgrades to your plan. And what we heard from our client was that the program was very successful, and it was, on paper. If you go and look at the data, it is a successful program. Everybody subscribed, everybody uses it, and everybody tends to top up to gain more points with the program. But then, when you go and listen to the user, you understand that there is friction between the cultural affinity of a specific type of user, namely people of an age range over 55 because they believe that going to the shop and asking for something for free is like bargaining. They don’t want to do it, and they always give their phone to their sons or cousins to do that. Because it would be shameful for them to go to the shop. Our client was never aware of this. 

So, this is the secret sauce of frog’s innovation process. 

We start by researching the users and by understanding their real needs, which are not always visible.
Can you elaborate on the example you’ve just mentioned? How did you find out about the 55 plus age group using the program is this particular way? 

This process goes by the name of design research, which is very different from market research. What we usually suggest to our client is that with 10 to 20 customer interviews, we start seeing data patterns. We keep hearing the same things. So, we try to distribute culturally, in terms of income, age range to cover the target group our clients want to address for that specific program, and then we start understanding that. In some cases, we need to either extend the age range or the types of interviews we run, but we learn a lot during that process. 

And, usually, what we learn is something that the client was not aware of before. We love to involve representatives as listeners in these kinds of interviews because it’s not just a learning experience for them. Still, it is also a chance for them to be surprised and learn something about their customers that they did not know before. It’s a great inspiration to be surprised. People should be actively looking for that, even if your product is already out there being used. 

Yes, absolutely. We usually operate in a task force mode. We have the luxury of being involved through the entire cycle of life of any given product. Typically, right before the launch to market or immediately after, we close our relationship with the client, or we move their next product. But we always try to set new processes and new philosophies, even when the clients are not interested in investing in a UX team or a CX team. 

The first thing I always tell my client is that their product is never-ending. They need to be aware of continuous iteration, which is not going on just for software development.

You need to keep on learning and measuring what’s happening with your product, how your customers are using it. Are they using it for the purpose you imagined?
Or is there a cluster of customers that is changing this purpose or repurposing it? By doing this, they are innovating or inspiring you to further the variation to your product. I think that anyone who’s watching this video or reading this blog is willing to change, or at least they see the horizon; they realize that they need to listen to their customers. But this is easier said than done. So, a lot of companies often will involve an external party like frog, and what do you think is the most significant added value of an organization like yours for other companies? 

I would say that we shape minds and hearts. We shift the paradigm of how clients work on the product they build but also the way they think about the process of making the product and the value of the user in the creation, innovation, and disruption in the markets. We have a practice that we call organizational activation where we teach our clients’ organizations into thinking and behaving as we do internally. 


It’s not just about keeping the customer, the human being, at the center of everything you do, but also about cross-pollinating every internal discipline or every internal practice with everybody else. For example, when we worked with the Italian postal service, we repurposed an entire floor in their headquarters in Rome so that people from product development, business people, people from marketing and people from IT could work together with the CX and UX teams in order not to just build products but also to plan new products. And it was fascinating for me to see the smiles on people’s faces when moving out of their closed-door offices into this big open space, realizing that there is so much more in sharing information and sharing objectives, even if it’s your objective. The very moment you share it, you can measure it with somebody else’s objective, and immediately it becomes an organization’s objective. It’s a very interesting point to suggest that you can start small, you can start by doing this yourself by going to other departments to involve them. If you are, for example, working in customer insights, you can always take what you learn and actively approach other people in other disciplines to create a mini-version of a customer-centric culture. 

Absolutely, and I always say that in this kind of business, the importance of time and speed is so much more significant than the importance of scale. Waiting until you have the perfect team will keep you out of business because there’s going to be somebody, somewhere, most likely in a garage, which is going to do precisely the same thing with a fraction of the money you have. That’s the competition you need to see. The competition you already have is somebody you know. So, I don’t think that it is a menace to you. The threat to you is the people you don’t know and the people who have not just the need to eat your market, but also the hunger to eat it. 


Because their life depends on the success of that operation. So, the way we try to work more and more with our clients is to run the business as a start-up, even if they are not. It’s something that we call venture design, which goes through the same principles, for example of autonomy of the teams working on that product, of insights and the way to gather those insights, of protection of the overall organization politics. This team needs to act as if it was a start-up within the larger organization. And the success and the pace of these teams is impressive, phenomenal.

Engage your clients and keep on measuring!
A lot of the people we talk to are in CX-related roles, and we often hear that although the company already has a team to drive customer experience, there is still a lot of reluctance in the organization. I think that it is natural with any type of change, they think, “what is the necessity of change?”. You must encounter this resistance in every project, how do you deal with a situation like that? 

First of all, if you were successful until now, something could happen, and you might not be successful anymore. Think about the unprecedented times we are living. Some organizations were completely stopped. We have developed a technology that we call “test and trace”, so it’s a series of processes and tools that help organizations, specifically industrial organizations, to go back on track to building their products. It’s not something you can do from home, but still, you need to go back in business and keep your workforce safe. Putting your customer at the center is not necessarily something you need to hire people for. You can have a consultant joining, or you can hire an external organization. 


I mean, CX and UX now are so widespread that everybody has some sort of offering, from a single freelancer to an organization like frog. But once organizations discover the value of CX and UX, that’s the turning point for the entire organization. That’s when the CX team is not just a team that contributes to the business but becomes the team that drives the business and pushes it ahead. And I’ve seen this happening with any kind of client, small and medium enterprises to some of the top 50 organizations at a global level. The impact organizations have when working with companies like frog fundamentally changes the shape of the way they do business, and they would never be able to go back to how it was before.I am trying to envision how you implement this yourself. If you see the need to steer in this direction, but someone is blocking the way, do you have any tips from your experience, how can you deal with a person like that? 

Call me. I rarely witness what happens before. I know there are challenges, but it’s my job as a consultant to help my client solve these challenges. I frequently hear it’s hard to convince somebody to get the budget to create a CX program. In some cases, it’s just not possible. Even though it makes a lot of sense and looking at the trends of the market everybody is telling you that you should do it, there will be management teams that decide not to do it. They think “we’ve always done things like this, why should we change?” and then the suggestion is easy: leave the company, because sooner or later they are going to fail, and you don’t want to be there when it happens. I want to wrap up with a final question. Change does not come naturally. I think that many companies are afraid of becoming customer-centric or taking the step to start listening to customers. So, what are the first two or three steps that people can take to start doing this themselves? 

It’s super easy: call ten of your customers and talk to them. It takes one hour of your time to ask them three questions and see what they answer. Their answer will reveal you so much about your product and business that not doing it is plain stupidity, 

It’s your customers who are designing your products and building your company. You perceive this in a certain way, but it’s not always how your customers are perceiving it.

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