The shift to remote work is a challenge for most companies, but even more so for those whose company cultures are built on customer centricity and face-to-face communication. Being a trusted partner is the number one concern for Matthew Evetts, even as everyone is going through quarantine. Joining Betsy Westhafer and Tony Bodoh in today’s episode, Matthew is the Group CTO for the Optic Security Group and GM of Optic Digital. Matthew comes from a company culture that is very much influenced by the “big village” culture of New Zealand, characterized by an emphasis on face-to-face dealings with customers. He describes the difficulties in adapting that culture to the quarantine and how the company manages to surmount them. With recent advances in information and communications technology being utilized on an unprecedented scale, Matthew sees the current crisis as a catalyst for the inevitable future of customer experience in the IT world.
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We have Matthew Evetts all the way from New Zealand. Matthew had some interesting conversations with us. This is going to be interesting to you because Betsy and I talk often about building a formalized structure for customer feedback. Betsy works with the client advisory boards. I’m helping build the more consumer-facing feedback forms, but Matthew has got a whole different approach in his company and it’s based on relationships. I’ll let him tell you a little bit more about that. I’m excited to have him as a guest because he’s going to bring a different perspective. It’s because of the culture, not just of his company, but also the culture of where he lives and how they do business there. Betsy, what’s your take on it?Unfiltered listening is the gold standard for customer-centricity. Click To Tweet
I’m excited for this interview. I’ve known Matthew for years. I had the great pleasure of having him visit Dayton, Ohio where I am. We got to spend a lot of time together and share some cultural differences. It was fun. I’m looking forward to diving into how things are done in his part of the world and with his type of company. It is a different spin on what we generally talk about. It will be an exciting conversation. Matthew, it is great to see you and to have you here. Welcome.
It’s great chatting with you.
Matthew, I’d love for you to tell us more about your background, but a little bit about Matthew. He’s the Group CTO for Optic Security Group and also the GM for Optic Digital. He is wearing two different big hats. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand with his wife and three children. He thrives on working with organizations to solve business and technology problems. Matthew, we’d love for you to jump in and tell us a little bit more about your background on how you ended up where you are.
I’ve had quite a bit ground. I haven’t always been purely in the technology space. I’ve worked a lot in the business space as well, but I always had a keen interest in technology, mainly self-taught in that area. I’ve been dabbling in tech, if not working on it full-time for many years. I also have a real interest in organizations, how they took and how they managed and leaned in. That’s been a common thread throughout my career as well. I’ve always worked in New Zealand. I have worked in Auckland for several years, which is the biggest city in New Zealand. For the last several years, I have been based in Wellington, which is New Zealand’s capital.
This is exciting because I enjoy talking with people who have different ways of doing things. As we kick this off, Betsy and I tell people to build this formalized structure. One of the things that stood out to me as we talked was that your company has this culture that you don’t necessarily have a formalized feedback process. Tell us a little bit about that and what your process is, even though it’s informal. Why do you think it’s how it emerged?
The company grew up in Wellington. One of the interesting aspects of doing business in Wellington is that the central business district is competitive. It’s driven by the geography of this whole cityscape in the region. It’s a region that’s been born out of a series of earthquakes over the last few hundred years. It’s steep and hilly and the CBD is essentially built on the foreshore and quite a competitive area. There are no big cities but it’s got about the same population as Dayton, Ohio with beaches. In terms of where we work, it’s quite compact and we walk to and from between most of our customers. We don’t have to jump in the car much. Once you’re in the CBD, you can work closely with the customers and you can meet them face-to-face. Ironically, at this time, we’re all locked inside houses for obvious reasons. For the most part, we do walk down the street and have coffee with our customers or we grab a beer after work. It is a relational kind of city.
The company grew up here. We do have a whole team up in Auckland as well. We also had teams in other cities across New Zealand, then Australia, as part of the Optic Security Group. In a relational way, working to a large degree was born out of how Wellington works as a city. We call it a big village. It’s interesting because you can talk to someone else about a particular discipline. You can say, “Do you know so-and-so?” There’s probably a 50/50 chance that they’ll say yes, which is crazy when you consider there are thousands of people working in the industry. Certainly, that is an aspect of it. There is generally a culture in New Zealand as well where those trust relationships are important. For those of us who grew up in New Zealand, we’re familiar with it. A requirement of a handshake is important. We still have written agreements, but the real importance of stumping up being the face in front of your product and your company, whatever it might be, and having those relationships.
Your team gets involved from the perspective of you’ve got these teams that go in and you make a good fit with the client as I understand it from our conversation. That comes back to what we talk about is knowing your customer. You’ve got to know the right personalities, I would imagine if they’re going to fit. Having that relationship, knowing who you’re working with, or at least having someone on the team that knows who you’re working with and then building the team out from there. Take us down that path a little bit because you do support in the IT world as well. You bring in supplemental team members for your clients several times.
We have an account-legal relationship with our customers. It can be with various people within a team or in a mixture of people. As far as a deeper operational relationship, we are working with our customers on a day-to-day basis. Often, that’s because one of our team will be on the ground with their customer either providing additional capacity, expertise in a particular area or helping them out on a particular project. Usually, that’s for several months at a time. They fit with both the customer, but also the team that person’s going to join within the customer is super important. It’s the ability to identify that and get that fit right from the beginning both from a personality culture perspective and a skill perspective are key differentiators for us as a business as well.Prioritizing relationship and connection doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and we shouldn’t expect it to. So we talk about the basics a lot. Click To Tweet
Matthew, I’m interested to know this relational culture you have, not only within your company but within the area where you live and do business. How do you communicate that or do you even have to with the people that work for you? How do you incorporate that into the DNA of your company?
That’s a big step. We definitely have to. Prioritizing relationships and connection don’t come naturally to everybody and we shouldn’t expect it to. A vast majority of our day-to-day business does rest heavily on the relationships that we build with our customers. It’s important that we do develop it within our organization. We do talk about it quite a lot. The things that I will talk about with the team, my managers would talk about with the right team as well. It’s all those real relationship basics like picking up the phone with a smile and making sure you connect with a person. It’s not just a transaction. “It’s Matthew here. How’s your day?” That genuine care around the customer.
We do have a lot of discussions about that and about, “How are we doing with connecting with such customer or with that person within the customer? How long has it been since we called them? How long has it been since we connected with their team and all the project teams that are working within that customer? We’re having those discussions on a daily basis, I suppose almost taking the pulse on how well we’re doing in building and maintaining the relationships that we’ve got with our customers.
With everything that’s going on with the massive transformation that’s happening in our worlds related to the Coronavirus, how is that changing how you engage with your customers?
It’s an interesting issue. It was quite telling in terms of the way we do business. When we realized that we were going to need to work from home, even before the official government announcement was made, we were already talking about, “How are we going to connect?” I’m sure there were lots of operational discussions that we could have had about, “How we’re going to get the work done?” Certainly, those discussions have happened but the first discussions that happened were, “How are we going to connect? How are we going to support our customers to continue to connect not just with us, but with their staff and their customers? Is there something that we can do for them to help them connect?” One of the first things we did is we almost filled our calendars with lots of marks of team video meetings.
My EA went through my entire calendar the day that we decided to work from home and converted every meeting I have to team meetings. We didn’t cancel any meetings. We changed them all to video meetings. We wanted to keep that connection alive however we could. In fact, one of the particularly interesting things I’ve found is that in some aspects, my workload has gone up because I’ve needed to make a lot more of an effort to connect with the people on my team and also with my customers. My calendar is even more full than normal and I have to find other ways to fit real work in. It’s all real work, but there is the stuff that has to be done on a piece of paper. We’ve had to be more deliberate about it, but in many aspects, we’re doing the same thing, but we’re doing it virtually. It just happens that it’s not happening at the cafeteria. We’ll call it the kitchen table. It’s not happening at the water cooler. It’s happening more deliberately because it’s happening virtually.
What do you see as the best thing that will come out of this situation because of that? Where do you see this going for your company and the good changes that are coming out of it?
It’s proved to everyone that you can do business well regardless of what’s happening around you. It’s proved that if you take the right steps, you can do even better when all the evidence should show that you’re doing worse. The reason I said that is because we could be letting our productivity slip and we could be delaying jobs and things like that. The reality is that we’ve got the tools that we need. If we’ve got the tools that we need, then the only missing ingredient potentially is the attitude and the headspace to get on with it. As far as the great outcomes, it is shown to everyone it doesn’t matter if one of our senior people is away or has to work from home or something comes up. If we all pull together as a team and increase our level of communication, we can make things happen.
Matthew, I was talking with a tech CEO and he brought up the conversation and it’s something that you mentioned. You talked about around the kitchen table. He said, “How do we keep that conversation going around the water cooler?” I know this guy. I’ve worked with him for a couple of years. He’s the type of CEO that gets out there, walks through the cubes, pokes his head over, chats with people, and his developers are doing the same thing. They’re like, “Let’s get a cup of coffee and chat for a while.” How do you keep that going in this remote working environment from your side there?
This is such a good question because it is hard. When you’ve got a culture where you have that ongoing teamwork and collaboration and then suddenly, you’re all home, it is a stark difference. We certainly had a culture where we have a completely open-plan office. I and everyone else are on one open-plan floor. There are no cubicles. Anyone can stand up and say, “What do you think about so-and-so?” That’s exactly what happens, which is not for everyone, but it does mean that you can be in each other’s space all the time. We’ve got innumerable coffee shops within a stone’s throw away. You can pop out to a coffee shop at any time. That kind of collaboration was very much encouraged. I encourage it and was built into our culture.
We’ve had to be deliberate about replacing that. One of those video chats that we set up from day one is an 8:30, all-hands call, which I host. It’s saying, “This is what’s going on, team.” It’s fun. We’ve finished a preset challenge for the whole team. We’re about to start a setup challenge. We had drinks on Friday night. We had a music quiz as part of it. Those kinds of catch-ups are a little bit of operations and fun. After the catch-up, each team within the business also has another video catch-up. In those catch-ups, we’re trying to get people focused on talking about, “This is the work I’m doing. These are the roadblocks I’ve got.”
We’re getting them to try and continue to collaborate even though they’re not sitting next to each other. We’ve been deliberate from that perspective. The other thing that I’m reminding the team about all the time is, “Make sure that you’re getting into the video chat or picking up the phone as opposed to writing an email.” I’m actively discouraging people to write emails, which may sound ridiculous. We have an intercompany chat too, so there are people on the table all the time and posting animated GIFs and all that kind of thing. What I’m saying is, “Instead of writing it in words, get on the video chat.” Potentially, there’s a little bit of productivity lost there, but that the gains that we get and continuing to get team members to connect far outweigh that.People respect genuine empathy. Click To Tweet
One of the things that I’ve been hearing about on a couple of calls I’ve been on is people are starting to deliver sales proposals or reply to emails with a video. They embed the video into the email. It’s still business as usual via email, but it’s a whole lot more personal touch. That’s an interesting perspective from some creative people doing it that way. Let’s talk a little bit about your customers. What are you hearing from them? How are you engaging with them differently than you normally would?
We’re engaging them via video for the most part. There are still a few phone calls and emails and things like that, but certainly, we’re trying to get on the videos. We’ve been working with those customers to see that the same kind of course that we have within our team. We’re getting on a scheduled call maybe once a week with a customer’s team or with a key contact within that customer and having some connection like, “How are things going? Are you guys coping? What’s happening in your world? Are the kids driving you crazy because you’re trying to work from home?” We are making sure that we still understand what’s going on in the business and they are getting what they need from us.
That’s definitely been a shift. I don’t think we would have connected with some of those customers quite as much in the past. We might’ve caught up with them every couple of weeks or once a month. We’ve tried to increase the level of connection where we can and try to make it by video wherever possible as well. The importance of us understanding our customers have certainly increased. That’s been a bigger focus for us. We are trying to get down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what’s happening in their world. If they don’t need our help, great. Let’s make sure that we understand that they don’t need our help. If they do, “How can we help? What’s the timeline for that?”
A great example of that that we had was one of our customer relationship team members gave one of his customers a call. It was a connection point and he said, “How are you going?” They were like, “We’ve been asked to provide two onsite field engineers. They’re going into emergency response units to provide IT support within this closed environment. Is that something you can help us with?” We were like, “Absolutely.” The first one of those engineers started. It was a great example of why getting those connection points is valuable.
At a time like this, it’s important and meaningful work.
I’m hearing it come out again in this conversation, you told us that one of the differentiators with your company is that relationship building. I find it so fascinating because as we kick this off, you don’t have a process necessarily from the traditional perspective of surveys and all of this going on, but you’ve got this daily or weekly connection. You’ve got that well-developed in that culture there. It sounds like there’s no boundary and barriers. Even the conversations, Betsy and I have talked to several other people on the show, it’s like getting to know who they are as people, have those conversations about the kids and what’s going on in life. It’s funny because the more we talk to CEOs who are successful leaders and successful in their businesses, that’s what we see again. It’s about this person-to-person relationship. It’s not so much about business-to-business. The business gets handled, but it’s about caring about that person and knowing that person first.
People respect genuine empathy. We don’t need to have a deep personal relationship with every one of our customers, but we need to be open to where they’re at. If they’re having a tough time at work, then we need to know about that. We need to know that things aren’t good. If we can support them, that’s great. If we can’t and we’re a sounding board at the time, then that’s fine as well. I suppose we want to position ourselves so that the customer can have whatever relationship they want to have with us. It’s not us pushing it. They need to feel comfortable. As an organization, we need to create an environment where that level of comfort is there and that level of trust is always increasing over that period of time. Personal touch is important. It’s not going to happen in every case, but we’re always open to it regardless of whether we can I suppose inject that personal touch with customer relationships. We still want to be that trusted partner. We want to be an organization that they feel that they can turn to. Whatever we can do to encourage that. That is something that’s going to be harder on our priority list.
How does that affect your innovation process and thought leadership? If you’ve got these regular connections with a lot of your clients, what does that do for you there? How do you handle that process of innovation, thought leadership, development of new services and such?
We probably go about the development of new services in much the same way as many of those companies do. Potentially, one of the differences is that in a lot of our proposition material, we’re going to talk about things like understanding requirements, being a trusted partner, “I’m working with you.” There are services that we do that are relatively transactional, but that’s probably in the minority. It’s things like, “You need a new antivirus package. Here’s one and this is how much it costs.” It’s simple stuff. When we’re talking about how we work with a customer, we’re talking from a more of an organizational people perspective first before diving down into the IT solution space.
As much as we’re still innovating those services and solutions like lots of IT companies are out there, we’re trying to do that from the customer perspective. Even if those solutions might be technical in nature, the way we present them to the customer should always be from the perspective as, “How can this help you? You shouldn’t buy this product because it’s neat and shiny. You should buy this product because it’s going to help you.” In fact, we’re not going to develop a service unless we believe it can help the customer.
Matthew, I’ve been interested to hear your thoughts on where your industry is going and how that will impact customer demands. Part of that question would be, how is your company preparing to meet those future demands of your customers?
The industry is changing quickly. For us, security is a big focus. That’s the whole way our company’s set up. Certainly, we see more demand from the wider market to have trusted security services right from high-level organizational risk management type of services through to the protection of physical premises and assets and that whole side of the piece as well. Cyber stuff is not going away. If you look at the environment around the world, every country is having to respond in different ways. The cyber piece is getting bigger and sadly, there are some bad actors that are taking advantage of the environment.
As an organization, we have to be ready to respond to those situations even more than what we were before. I don’t think that’s going to change. The way we see the market going in the world is that risk protection that put controls in place to mitigate risk for organizations is going to become more important. As an organization, that also needs to become more important. More discussions with our customers have to be about, “Where are your risks? What risks have you identified? What helped you maybe need to identify other risks that you possibly are at the forefront of your thinking? How can we help you mitigate those in the quickest and most affordable manner so that you can continue to grow and be successful as a business?”
That’s got to be critical. I know from personal experience since this Coronavirus started, my Spotify and Twitter have been hacked. I’m nobody, so I can’t even imagine what organizations have a lot to protect. I’m sure that is a massive concern for your customers.
The continuing trend we see in the market, which has been going on for a long time too, is the importance of data. In anything, data is often the most valuable asset within a firm. It is usually right behind stuff. Anything we can do to help protect that data and then help reset data for the betterment of their company is going to be a huge deal and also for the foreseeable future. All this remote working from home has highlighted that even more so.
Matthew, thank you. These are great stuff. I’m curious on a personal note, is there a charity, a nonprofit that you like to spend time supporting on our show? Probably now more than ever, it’s important to look at these community organizations that are supporting so many other people. Is there an organization that you spend your time within your community? If so, tell us a little bit about them.
My wife and I spent a lot of time with our local church here. That is a big part of our lives. At this time, they are doing a lot of community outreach than what they would normally. They are making sure that the families that are not so well protected against time like this are getting the support they need. Certainly, that’ll continue to be important for us and that church is well supported and that they can continue to provide the support that they are. The other thing that we do a lot as a couple is to support World Vision. They’re a global organization. My wife and I both spent time in Tanzania, Africa and World Vision does a huge amount of work right across Africa. Some of the work they do there is critical to the health and future of those communities. That’s a big deal for us.If you take the right steps, you can actually do better even when all the evidence shows that you're doing worse. Click To Tweet
Matthew, where can people find you?
LinkedIn is the best place to find me. I do dabble in a few different social media channels, but LinkedIn is the one that’s probably most up to date. I’m Matthew Evetts on LinkedIn. There are only about two of us in the world so I’m pretty easy to find. The company page is Optic Digital and is on LinkedIn as well.
Thank you for being here. This was a great conversation and we wish you so much good fortune to come in your corner of the world. It’s unfortunate, but it’s fascinating that every person on the planet is fighting the same enemy. We are on your side for what you’re going through in your part of the world and wish you well. I’m sure it will continue to be a busy time for you and your team.
Thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate your time too. It’s great to chat and talk through some of these important subjects.
Stay well, Matthew. Thank you.
I love this conversation with Matthew because as we went through the conversation, what I picked up on is they don’t have a formalized structure that something like you or I might promote to our clients, but they have discipline. He kept using the word ‘deliberate.’ They have this deliberate approach to it, whereas they’re doing the daily calls. That’s not something they do during the Corona crisis. He told us that they do this all the time. This is their regular form of communication. They’ve up-leveled it to some extent. It’s fascinating because, to me, that shows that when you have good relationships, not only build them, but that’s how you maintain them through these times that are challenging. In addition, it also shows how the different cultures, different areas, if you’re doing business locally as opposed to nationally or internationally, you might be able to have a different approach to things because the relationships you build are in that local area. That was important for us to pull that out because it’s not the traditional way we would probably tell someone to do it.
What’s fascinating to me is it is woven into the fabric of who they are as a company. They’re living our concept of unfiltered listening day-to-day. That’s the epitome of customer-centricity. We hear that phrase all the time with lots of different definitions and perspectives of what that means. When you are constantly working on the relationship with your customers, that is the gold star for customer-centricity.
I love what you said about unfiltered listening because Matthew is right there in that first meeting of the day leading it. He’s hosting that meeting. He’s getting it from everyone exactly what’s going on. He’s hearing it and then they go off to their team meeting. It’s such a powerful way to set it up. It’s something we have to profile in our next book.
The other thing that strikes me about that is it comes from the top. It has to come from the leadership and they have to walk the talk. It’s clear that Matthew does and I’m sure that is why they’re successful in their company in getting their team members to feel the same way about the customers.
Readers, if you’re paying attention to this and picking up on what we’re putting out there, think about your own company. Think about the ways in which you might have formal processes or you have a deliberate approach to something. Write that down so you understand it so you know it and make sure that you can pass that on within your culture deliberately.
Thank you, Tony. Thank you, readers, for being here for another episode. We hope to see you at the next one.
- Matthew Evetts
- Matthew Evetts – LinkedIn
- Optic Security Group
- Optic Digital
- Optic Digital – LinkedIn
- World Vision
- ProphetAbility: The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail and Bounce Back
- The Congruity Group
- Tony Bodoh International
- ProphetAbility Membership
- ProphetAbility for Teams
About Matthew Evetts
Matthew is the Group CTO for the Optic Security Group and GM of Optic Digital, the IT and cyber division of the Group. In addition to his role leading Optic Digital he also holds key responsibilities for the Optic Security Group. Optic Digital offers a broad range of IT and cyber services and has teams in Wellington and Auckland, the two biggest cities in New Zealand. His group responsibilities are spread across Australia and New Zealand; and include digital transformation, business continuity, development of new services, and improvements in group-wide capability. Matthew describes a key part of his role as being a “technology and business change evangelist – both internally and with our customers”.
Matthew’s focus is all about adding value, no matter how challenging the situation. He thrives on working with organisations to solve business and technology problems and improving upon the status quo. He loves the people aspect of his work as much as he enjoys innovation and IT.
He has a broad base of strategic, business, and technical experience; allowing him to quickly identify what will work in different situations, collaborate with a wide range of people, and adopt new technologies. He has deep enterprise and solution experience in a wide variety of settings.
His strengths include organizational leadership and operations, enterprise and solution architecture, problem analysis and issue resolution, digital services, design, and product development.
On the personal front, Matthew lives in Wellington with his wife and three children. He’s involved in his local church, an avid member of his nearby CrossFit box, and enjoys all things outdoorsy. You’ll often find him in one of the many national parks dotted across New Zealand, enjoying the mountains and bush-clad ranges.