Interview with Michael Smith, CIO of Estée Lauder: “The consumer must be at the center of concerns”

In an interview, Michael Smith, CIO of American cosmetics and personal care giant Este Lauder, talked about designing products for all audiences, using the metaverse and striving for simplicity.

Known for his leadership of major brand companies such as Nike and Mylan, Michael W. Smith currently serves as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Estée Lauder, a Fortune 213 company that operates in 150 countries and creates business of approximately $17 billion. Michael Smith is also known for the work he has done to give back and strengthen the wider technology community. In 2017, she launched Tech Day for Pink to bring together technologists and IT professionals around the world around breast cancer awareness, education and fundraising. He is also a co-founder of TechPACT, a coalition of technology leaders and CIOs dedicated to improving opportunity, diversity and inclusion in the technology space.

Every October, Estée Lauder Companies unites the global tech community to participate in Tech Day of Pink to raise breast cancer awareness and fund the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. (Credit: Estee Lauder)

In an interview with CIO, Smith dives into his leadership guidance and consumer-focused technology agenda, including his customer retention philosophy, why so-called CxO chief experience officers should be focus on the long term and what it takes to not just get involved. the industry, but become a leader in their field. He discussed the role of technology in the consumer experience and how his team is expanding the omni-experience in the metaverse.

Dan Roberts: What is your philosophy and approach to accessibility, both in terms of the customer experience and the employee experience?

Michael W. Smith: There are over a billion people who have some kind of physical problem. Hundreds of millions of people suffer from vision impairment. For us, it’s about enabling all consumers to be empowered by beauty and express themselves through makeup, skin care, perfume, hair care, all the things that are often difficult for them to will do. We focus on how we can use technology to make our products and experiences accessible to everyone.

This also applies to our own staff and ensuring that internally we do everything we can to be fully accessible. I even thought about it from the point of view of recruiting talent. To create a truly inclusive employee experience, you need to be accessible. At our last hackathon, a speaker looked at inclusive beauty and he explained that if you’re designing for the biggest physical challenge, then you’re designing a great product because it works for everyone. And that’s really the best hack: design for every audience.

How do you design and use technology to personalize the customer experience?

When you put the consumer at the center, silos disappear. The consumer should be the focus in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. Like many others, we had to start by laying the groundwork for basic omnichannel capabilities. Once the elements are in place (online purchase, in-store pickup, in-store fulfillment from an online purchase), you can start talking about a complete omnichannel experience – not just retail, but a true omnichannel experience that recognizes that our consumers are on social media, interacting and doing business through social media. They work with our retail partners around the world. Sometimes they’re on their phone, on our sites, shopping, and sometimes they’re in the store. They are usually in the store doing research on their phone. So it’s a question of understanding the consumer journey and knowing that it’s not tied to one channel.

This became the starting point for our design. And that leads to how you drive your creativity, how you make sure your creative content is distributed the right way. When you understand the consumer, their preferences, and their transactions, you can create the most personalized experience possible. With our beauty advisors, this person interacts directly with the consumer, and we are looking at how to use technology to help the beauty advisor better serve the consumer. We have thousands and thousands of products, so making sure that our staff and consultants are fully informed and know what is right for the consumer is about omni.

How do you approach the metaverse? Do you consider this part of the omni?

Yes, because our consumers are in the metaverse. It’s a trending channel, and I think the shift in the metaverse is very similar to what happened when people started using the Internet. With the metaverse and all these web3 technologies, the only difference is that I think the change, once it starts to happen, once it becomes mainstream, will be faster in terms of the adoption of those consumers and the general population.

Our approach is to test and learn. We recently launched the Clinique Metaverse Like Us campaign, which creates a truly diverse representation of the metaverse. We also participated, as the only high-profile beauty brand, in Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week. We have launched some NFTs [jetons non fongibles] with cosmetics brand MAC for charity through Viva Glam, as well as our annual Tech Day of Pink. This is a developing field, and it will take time to develop. So we are testing and learning, because when it starts, we want to be a leader in this area.

People talk about your gift for telling stories and your ability to simplify the complex. What advice would you give other leaders on how to use storytelling to inspire teams and influence stakeholders?

For me, one of the most important aspects of storytelling is reflection. Reflecting on past events and what they taught me often opens up stories, similarities and analogies. Storytelling also makes it possible to simplify a complex idea. One of our IT obsessions is: We Drive Simplicity. When you work in a company with multiple brands, geographies, and functions, there’s this complexity that naturally comes with it – and technology itself is complex – so we try to emphasize our obsessions, and simplicity is an important value for us.

We expect people to find ways to find simplicity in the midst of all this complexity. And that is not easy. I assimilate it a little with this saying: “If I have more time, I will write you a short note”. It requires a certain level of effort to do all this and make it simple, for others, for ourselves and, above all, for all parties involved, including the decision makers.

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