Anupama Sajeet
Mar 6, 2024

Customer experience can no longer be an afterthought: David Shulman, global CEO, Havas CX

With a mission to reshape brands through exceptional customer experiences, Havas' Shulman discusses strategies for balancing soaring consumer expectations with personalised and meaningful interactions in a fiercely competitive market.

David Shulman (L), along with Prashant Tekwani (R), Havas CX
David Shulman (L), along with Prashant Tekwani (R), Havas CX
It’s been a little over a month since Havas roped in VML's David Shulman as CEO of its global CX practice, making him the customer experience network’s inaugural chief executive in over four years since its launch in 2020.
Shulman whose LinkedIn bio reads ‘global executive with an obsession for building customer experiences that transform brands and drive business growth', has previously held positions as CEO at Omnicom Group’s Organic, president at Wunderman and most recently, chief experience officer at VML—having begun his career on the client side at Jaguar managing brand strategy.
Shulman's new role will now see him lead a group of around 2000 people across 26 Havas 'Villages' in over 19 countries globally.
On his maiden visit to India since his appointment, Campaign India sat down with Shulman for an in-depth and insightful conversation alongside Prashant Tekwani, managing partner for Havas CX India, on the growing significance of CX in today’s digital ecosystem, crafting the ideal customer experience, and why the term CX itself is no longer an afterthought.
The CX evolution
Recent years have seen an increasing number of conversations around CX—an element very much considered part and parcel of the marketing department until recently. However, with the global CX market growing approximately 11% year-on-year and projected to hit a CAGR of 16.6% by 2030, as per industry estimates, the question arises: Why are we seeing CX evolve into a frontier of its own lately? 
Shulman explains that there have been significant developments in CX in recent years, dating back to when he was responsible for advancing its capabilities on a global scale at VML.
“What I've seen over the last few years is: Years back when we walked into a client meeting, our role as practitioners was to explain what CX is and to justify the value and investment that we're looking for clients to make around it. That's completely turned 180,” says Shulman.
He cites a couple of dynamics for this. Firstly, customers are demanding greater experiences, Shulman points out, adding, “The greatest brands around experience, have set expectations very high and raised the bar. So, all brands need to be aware of that.” 
He continues, “That's matched with the second dynamic, which is that so many legacy brands that have been around as established brands and have been in business for a while, are starting to be concerned about disruption from new entrants that are being created. Many times [they] are built around experience.”
“So, that's exciting, because we've moved from this not-so-understood capability to the capability that everyone wants to be part of and everyone understands the value of now,” Shulman adds.
Tekwani concurs, adding that when they launched the Havas CX network in India, everyone’s first question was ‘What is CX?' 
“I'm so glad that we've crossed that hurdle. Today, the conversation is not 'what is CX'. A lot of CMOs and CIOs, in fact, are asking whether we have a customer experience practice that they can reach out to. So, today at least we are in a space where people understand what customer experience is and the need for it in the market,” Tekwani affirms.
Integration is key
Havas has been integrating and aligning the CX capabilities of its speciality studios such as BETC Fullsix, Think Design and Gate One since 2020, coinciding with the launch of Havas CX—its international network dedicated to delivering ‘meaningful brand experiences across the entire customer journey’.
According to Shulman, integration is the key—integration with the three different business units Creative, Media and Health within Havas—as it not only drives productivity, but also cost efficiency.
"We are aligning individual CX teams within the network to create a unified practice," he says.
“A lot of the mission for us is to define a vision that is differentiated but very true to Havas, and then figuring out the best ways to orchestrate the teams to bring together communities of expertise and to unite us as one network that works within the entire One Havas model. So then all three different business units: Creative, Media and Health within Havas come together in a unified way, and we can serve our clients even better,” he adds.
CX strategies and solutions for different markets 
As part of a global agency that’s spread across myriad countries and markets in the world, how does Havas approach differences in CX strategies and customer experience solutions that come with cultural nuances across different markets and regions?
Shulman explains, “So, it isn't about a few people in some big markets that are trying to guess at what the right nuances are in any one market. We have leadership, expertise and talent in so many markets that we can truly bring in those depths of cultural insights and nuances and tap into that.”
That is relevant, adds Shulman, as they serve clients locally. “But especially important as we do more multinational and global client relationships, and make sure that these clients get the individual expertise within any market they want to serve,” he adds.
Today, the knowledge barrier is broken down, adds Tekwani, noting that it's not unheard of to have a client who's sitting in Singapore with expertise being used out of India or Vietnam, be it design or production and, the project going live.
The Indian market in the global scheme of things 
North America dominated the global CX market with an estimated share of 35.85% in 2022, according to a recent Fortune Business Snsights industry report. So, is the global market share of the Indian CX market pie substantial enough to up the ante?
"India is a huge priority for Havas and CX represents a huge opportunity for us," says Shulman, adding that the very fact that he is in week five of his tenure in Havas and he’s already here speaks volumes to the significance of the market. 
Shulman highlights some of the big names the agency has worked with in the recent past in the country. “There is a lot of notable work that is coming out of our stable already. Apart from the big names that we already worked with, there is Bosch mobility system, Aegon Life, Tata Steel, which we very recently won. Then there is Dr. Reddy's lab which has been with us for almost a decade plus,” he shares.
Assimilating online and offline experiences 
Shulman believes it's somewhat inadequate to think about above-the-line (ATL), below-the-line (BTL), online and offline marketing today, because 'that's not the way people live their lives'.
"The customer has an experience every time they interact with a brand—whether it's through a call centre, or be it a web or mobile experience or live interaction with a brand employee," he says. He adds that the customer doesn't think about as online or offline. 
“So, we start with getting a depth of understanding of the users, the customers, the people that we're looking to bring together and all individual touch points in the ecosystem have to be thought through in a very seamless way. And that drives interaction.” 
Lessons from legacy brands known for great CX
Globally brands that prioritise customer experience such as Apple, Disney and Amazon, are great at reinventing themselves to offer meaningful value to consumers. What are some of the takeaways and learnings one can imbibe from them?
"All those brands are great at constantly reinventing themselves in service of the customers that they're trying to add value to," observes Shulman.
"If you think about them, Apple has actually been around for such a long time. And yet, it has maintained relevance and freshness so much so that it feels like a modern, new brand. And Amazon has been such a pioneer in the space of e-commerce and shopping," he adds. 
“For me, it's the evolution from product to service to experience brands. And each of those brands has products they sell and services they offer, but they are differentiating themselves by offering you meaningful value, and not just about serving better products or speedier service. It's about building an entire ecosystem, where every touchpoint is exceptional. And that's why these brands continue to thrive, year after year,” stresses Shulman.
To emphasise his point, Shulman shares an unexpectedly sweet treatment he got to experience at a hotel he was put up at in Mumbai during his trip, wherein the staff went above and beyond the expected hospitality standards to create a personalised offering for him—one which he will remember for a long time to come.
"Experience’ brands create a culture where an individual employee can do exceptional things that are meaningful and unique to the customer. It goes above and beyond set formats, and that's where exceptional experiences come to life,” he opines.
Data privacy and security in the ‘cookieless’ era 
How does Havas' CX network ensure compliance with global and regional regulations, while building trust with customers regarding data handling and privacy—especially with the impending demise of the third party cookies?
Tekwani states, “So, essentially, we all realise that certain restrictions and laws are going to influence, and we've already seen the changes happening in the North American and European markets. While we still haven't seen that happen in India, the fact also remains that there will come a point when these will be implemented in India.”
He highlights the importance of first-party data and what he refers to as ‘zero data’ personalisation.
Tekwani also discusses the growing difficulties in collecting data from portals such as Amazon, Facebook or Google. “So, you will have to have your own data portals where this first-party data is going to be collected.”
He also stresses the importance of ‘advocacy’ in the consumer journey, once a brand has inducted the consumer into its ecosystem. He cites the example of Netflix today, which collects data on consumer’s viewing preferences  “Now for the consumer personalisation is important, so he or she is okay to give you that data in order to create an experience which is going to be seamless for him or her.”
Tekwani cautions however, “That doesn't mean that the brand has the right to be intrusive, it just means that it has to be very prudent and make as much meaningful sense of the data that has been given to the brand.”
So, while the cookieless world is going to be challenging for all the brands to adapt to, eventually it will get to a point where they will create their own communities on own platforms as well, he surmised.
Constant consumer availability: An opportunity or challenge? 
In today’s digital landscape wherein consumer attention is at a premium, does the constant availability across multiple platforms present an opportunity or a challenge to distract and engage the consumer, Campaign asks.
The duo emphasises the importance of adding value to consumers’ lives through personalised experiences and effective data use while highlighting the challenges of misusing consumer data.
According to Tekwani, while one part of the problem is misusing consumer data, the other problem is brands not using it at all. 
“Many legacy brands have been collecting data for a long time, and they have been getting all the necessary information. But it is important to know what to do with this data also, is there a way that I can add value to the consumer's life which is essentially what personalisation is?  Many of these legacy brands have seen new players coming and disrupting the way the market works,” he notes.
“I think it goes back to the notion of adding value,” says Shulman. “If a brand is adding value to your life on your terms, and not what the brand wants, and if they do that effectively, you're going to want to share your personal data because you're going to see it as a benefit. Everything has to be centred around what a consumer wants from the brand."

"CX sits right now at the centre of everything that we're trying to do at Havas,” Shulman signs off.


Campaign India

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