Q&A: Celebrating 30 years of DBM Consultants

February 4, 2022

This year marks 30 years of DBM Consultants. We caught up with Managing Director Dhruba Gupta and CEO Kipling Zubevich who share their reflections, insights and thoughts on the future.

Managing Director Dhruba Gupta is co-founder of DBM Consultants and holds a career in market research that spans 35 years. He is a recognised industry leader, known for his work on customer experience, pricing, segmentation, new product development and forecasting.

CEO Kipling Zubevich joined DBM in 2020 after an impressive tenure as GM of Business Marketing at NAB. During a decade with the organisation he held various leadership roles, overseeing marketing campaigns and strategic programs relating to customer segmentation, customer analytics, advocacy management and marketing transformation.

1. How do you think DBM Consultants has evolved as we mark our 30th anniversary? 

DG: DBM has gone through a number of cycles. Some things have stayed constant and other things have varied.

We haven't tried to be all things to all people. Our focus has always been in the services sector, which includes banking, insurance, telcos, energy etc. And we have always tried to add value to help our clients achieve their objectives. 

In the last 10 years, we've been focusing more and more in the financial services sector. Up until 2018-2019 and then more recently, of course, we have been expanding our focus, but in a more strategic way through our boutiques.

The other evolution is towards more of the tracking type work as opposed to one-off strategic projects. Through these projects, you really get to know the client and have the chance to contribute to their business in a more meaningful way.

One of the other features has been that we haven't had a very large number of clients. But we have been extraordinarily privileged to have been given the opportunity to build very long-term relationships. We have partnered for more than 10 years with most of our major clients. We are still working with the same client today as we were on day one, 30 years ago!

KZ: That’s right. We’ve gone from bespoke research to becoming Australia's leading provider of syndicated research for financial services. Our heritage is strategic research and consulting, customised to the individual needs of each client. 

Around 15 years ago, we saw an increasing appetite for robust measurement and diagnostics of customer satisfaction and advocacy, particularly in financial services. For the past decade or so, we have focused much of our efforts in this space.  We are proud that we are now serving over 50 financial services brands operating in Australia.

Looking forward, we are aiming to come full circle and re-invigorate our customised research offering. We have brought a number of senior leaders on board to help us drive these efforts – leading new boutiques such as DBM Social Research.

2. Why is research and data so important for organisations and individuals? 

DG: We work with some of the largest clients who have huge resources in terms of capital, people and technology. They answer to their board and shareholders and the stakes are very high. Their decisions impact not just on their millions of customers and tens of thousands of staff, but pretty much all Australians through their superannuation investments.

The work we do involves bringing the customer’s voice to the boardroom and to the leadership teams. And we help them decide on the right areas to focus onto improve their relationships with their customers.

Frontline staff are only seeing the part of the customer’s business that sits with that institution. On average, in the banking area for example, customers deal with two different providers so frontline staff are only seeing half of their customers’ business. Research and data provide a wider picture of the customer’s journey.

KZ:  I would add that there are things people won't share directly with the person they are dealing with from that organisation.

Customers may prefer to avoid confrontation or awkward conversations especially if their deeper needs aren’t relevant to the day-to-day “transaction” that is taking place between them and the customer service representative.

This is where research comes in: we give people a chance to open up about what they really think. We can also probe deeper into unmet needs or things the customer might not have thought about. 

3. How do you think the work we do impacts society? 

KZ: If we take DBM Atlas, our research is used by some of Australia's biggest companies to hold management to account for customer service levels. This means they are really motivated to hear what customers think and find ways to deliver better outcomes for these customers. The winner is customers of Australian financial services providers such as banks (in other words, most Australians benefit). We can also help brands innovate and develop new products and services to meet the emerging needs of consumers and businesses.

DG: I agree.Our clients are among the biggest employers. They are the biggest taxpayers there are the biggest contributors to the economy because they are the engine that drives businesses. And consumers work with these institutions to help them save money, invest money and borrow money. As a society, we really need these big corporations to flourish. If our country and our economy is to succeed, we need them to be making good decisions that impacts society in a positive way.

4. What have been some challenges or growing pains that DBM Consultants has been able to overcome? 

KZ: Like any growing business, it’s critical that our systems, policies and procedures (in areas like IT, HR and finance) continue to evolve so we can deliver the best service to our clients. We've been able to do this by bringing in the right people, with the required skills and importantly the right attitude to help us build a strong culture. We’ve also brought in great leaders who can inspire teams and make DBM a great place to work - and that helps us recruit and retain talent. 

DG: I echo Kipling’s point about the importance of getting the right people on the DBM bus. When we have the right people, the bus knows where to go.

5. What do you predict the next 30 years look like for data and research? 

KZ: Data alone isn’t enough, so professionals need to really understand the business problems that clients are trying to solve and be able to come up with new solutions. These solutions must be based on sound understand not only of the customer, or the client organisation, but the fundamentals of business, or of public policy, behaviour change etc. Effectively, it’s about bringing the “so what”, but also the “what next” to clients.  

DG: That’s right. We need to be able to bring our clients closer to their customers. Identifying insights is one part of it, but how can we help with activation or the generation of direct opportunities to acquire customers and build better relationships with current customers?

6. What are some exciting things happening for DBM at the moment?

KZ: As mentioned earlier, diversification is a big focus for us right now. We are doing this via our new boutique model – for example, DBM Social Research was launched in 2021 and has already won some major projects. 

These include a world-leading study on Responsible Gambling; an ongoing community perceptions piece for a Commonwealth Department; a project (in collaboration with Adelaide University) which involves designing and testing a large-scale future research program in the transport field; and also, a study led by Central Queensland University, of Youth Gambling Transitions.

DBM Social Research has grown quickly to a team of 10 people. Moving forward, the vision for this boutique is to provide thought leadership in the areas of problem gambling and public health research, customer experience of disability and aged care services, as well as leveraging innovative, emerging technology to supplement and substitute survey data across policy areas.

More broadly, the aim of our boutique model is to create vehicles for talented leaders capable of building business like DBM Social Research, with autonomy to create their own offering and identity, but also to benefit from being part of the wider DBM network. As we have been able to achieve with our financial services practice, these boutiques will enable us to diversify into other industry sector, areas of expertise, and geography.

Over recent years, we’ve found applications for our Atlas data in media targeting and audiences in partnership with other leading providers in this area. We will continue to explore opportunities and partnerships in this space.

As mentioned earlier, we see strategic consulting as critical to the evolution of the research industry – and something clients are increasingly demanding. This is a major part of our future growth plans.

Find out more about our boutiques: DBM Social Research, DBM Consulting, DBM Atlas.

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