Driving the Digital Revolution, Remembering the Human Touch


Photo by Arpad Pinter

Vodafone Hungary’s digital champion, Italian Michelangelo Giacco, says his job is two-fold, though the goals are interlinked: one, improve the customer experience; two, make the company more productive.

Michelangelo Giacco

Giacco was only appointed to the Chief Digital Officer’s role in April, although he has run Vodafone’s commercial operation in Hungary since 2016. The position shows the importance the company is placing on the digital agenda. He says the company has taken a deep look at what it does. That has led them to five key areas where the company needs to excel: personalization; ease; speed; collaboration; and data driven decisions.

Data is perhaps the most interesting of these. In many cases companies such as Vodafone already have much of the information they need to improve things today. For example, by responding in real time to a reduction of traffic on the website, or by creating a service that will proactively message clients and give them the required information upfront, if their bill is suddenly 25% more than usual. 

Many of the five key trends also feed back into each other: “I use a program called Neticle to help me understand what customers are saying on social media. I know exactly how many negative comments we are getting each day. Of course you are never going to stop those being made entirely, but my job is to see that the number is declining.”

A key part of Giacco’s role, therefore, is “to introduce the organizational and the technical capabilities to make sure we can accelerate in these five areas and provide the most engaging digital experience.”


But Vodafone did not just look at its own business. In just ten years, the once traditional top companies, pharma and oil, have been replaced by tech companies: Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google. They work in very different ways to their predecessors, but the telco says it has identified the common features that make the newcomers more productive.

“Part of my job is to understand these activities and bring them here. We have to use data differently, use communications differently, do customer engagement in a different way.”

Given the level of mobile phone penetration in the Hungarian market, providers have to get creative in order to keep clients. 

“We have to give customers some benefit,” says Giacco. The JóDolgok (GoodThings) app aims to do just that. Customers are gifted benefits, which they reveal by shaking their phone. And it is available both in Hungarian and English, meaning foreign users not blessed with Hungarian language skills can also benefit.

Speed is another important aspect, the CDO says. How quickly do you respond to the customer? How quickly do you respond to the market? How quickly do you innovate?

“Giants like Amazon and Google and small tech disruptors are always experimenting, and they start small; at the beginning, they do not invest a lot of money, just enough to learn. At Vodafone, we are not afraid of failing: failure is good, as long as you have failed quickly and not spent a lot of money. They say in tech ‘fail fast’. I say ‘fail fast and learn’.” 

Keeping a Balance

That might imply rolling out ever more digital solutions, but a balance must be struck, Giacco says.

“The digital revolution can make operations more efficient, so I want to digitize where it makes sense to do so, like bill paying or topping up. But we also want to combine the digital experience with human interactions, for the more emotional and complex tasks that require a personal touch.” Find that equilibrium, and customer engagement will improve, he says.

“We can make our customers’ lives much easier, giving them what they want, what the need, when they need it. We have some big ambitions. Fundamentally we want to be more relevant and more personal to each customer.”

That’s all very good, but is the ultimate goal to protect the existing market share, or to see it grow? The Italian director points to the recent announcement that Vodafone Group Plc. had agreed to acquire UPC Hungary, the country’s largest cable operator, as part of a wider European acquisition that also includes Liberty Global’s operations in Czech Republic, Germany and Romania. The deal, valued at EUR 18.4 billion, is subject to European Commission approval.

“Our intention is to grow and offering convergent services will accelerate competition in the Hungarian market; I think the UPC deal is testament to that. We think the best way to grow is by being very relevant, a very easy organization to deal with, also by being a little quirky and innovative – like with our GoodThings app –, by being a bit different. If we can differentiate by offering quality services, as a minimum that will protect our business.”

Not surprisingly for a digital champion, Giacco is keen for Vodafone Hungary to do more in the local startup scene, and he says the company is assessing how it can best do so. “Do we want to use the tool that the startup makes for our own internal use, or do we want to present these startups to our customers to accelerate their digital journey? Do we want to use these tools or become a hub?” It seems to be a case of watch this space.

Mini C.V.

Michelangelo (Mirko) Giacco was appointed to the newly created CDO post in April 2018, adding it to the position of director of commercial operations he has held since he joined Vodafone Hungary in March 2016. That role sees him responsible for sales and service, covering retail, call center, digital, customer experience, collection and transformation. He moved to Budapest from London, where he had been Vodafone’s global head of multichannel sales and distribution from January 2015. Prior to joining the telco, Giacco had been a commercial director at Barclays for three years, where he led the Big Data start-up created within the high street bank. That followed roles at Northern Rock (following the nationalization of the troubled lender, he joined the small team whose task was to return it to the private sector), Indesit Company, and McKinsey & Company.

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