Janina Vriesekoop works at Heineken as an innovation and digital manager and has been working at the beer giant since 2013. The Dutch tech expert previously launched her own digital publishing platform Ons Woord and also worked on the supplier side of a full-service internet company Virtual Affairs as a Project manager and later on as an account manager.
What futuristic technology is Heineken using to improve their customer service?
One way Heineken uses technology is that we have bots for consumers. You can find these on our websites and apps, a nice example is our Afterwork bot, the Afterworker. Consumers can check where upcoming events are here, use it to put themselves on guest lists and ask about promotions. Once you’re on the guestlist, the Afterworker can inform you about the event itself, the location and weather. At the end of the event, it can offer you a ride home with Uber and check if you want to coordinate your own Afterwork drink at home. Everything you need for your own party at home will then be delivered by Deliveroo or Thuisbezorgd.nl.
What is the future for FMCG and e-commerce?
From my perspective, e-commerce is changing the whole route to market. We know that new partnerships and possibilities are emerging thanks to digital. For example, nowadays you have Deliveroo. We now deliver Heineken via Deliveroo, which means that we now deliver to consumers who want to drink chilled beer at home. This is new and isn’t something we covered before.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role at Heineken?
The whole digital transformation! For a lot of people, digital is still an afterthought. Thinking about digital technology still acts as step that comes after defining something, whether a new product or a new project or a new campaign.
The hard part is reaching the traditionally-minded employees who need to change along with the company. How can you bring them into the digital world and [give them the skills so that they’re] on top of their jobs? We have a separate department, but I believe transformation would mean that everyone (and not just the digital department employees) would do it as part of their jobs and how do we enable it.
Grant Thornton’s annual survey showed that the percentage of businesses around the world with at least one woman in senior management has increased in the past year, but that the proportion of senior roles held by women has declined. This suggests that businesses may be simply focused on avoiding an all-male leadership team. What can companies do to foster a more inclusive culture with more women at the top?
To be honest, I think that diversity is something the Netherlands is a bit behind on in terms of women at the top. That has to do with the choices we make at home — you know, you are the woman, you’ll work less, or you’ll be the one called first if the child gets sick. That’s maybe the change that needs to happen first: if you want equality at work, there needs to be equality at home.
But I don’t think the way to promote diversity is to create protection for women’s jobs at the top, this would feel a bit like positive discrimination. From that perspective, I’m more masculine sometimes. We should deliver equally, be there equally, if the woman can do a senior role and take care of the kids as well, that’s her choice, but if she can’t do it and still wants that senior position, perhaps she should look to her husband or partner for support and see if he could take care of things, too.
This said, one thing companies could do would be to make sure that women are being paid the same salary as men for the same job, the same reward and that might already help. And complete salary transparency would show there was no difference between wages based on gender. This said, it doesn’t mean we’d ever take someone less qualified for the job because they’re a woman, that’s not going to happen.
What’s the one lesser-known place in the Netherlands that everyone should visit?
I love the beaches in the Netherlands, it doesn’t really matter where but you should definitely visit the beach. My favourite spot is Noordwijk, I live there, I always go to the Branding, which is a beach restaurant that is open all year long, so it doesn’t matter when you go to the Netherlands, you should go there.
If you could have any super power, which would you choose?
Oh wow. I’ve never thought about that before. I’m not into spying or listening, so it would have to be a super power that could change some of the bad habits we have as humans. So probably more something like controlling the weather — so I could solve global warming.
Which book changed your life?
I’m really fond of the novels written by Dutch author Connie Palmen. They always give me a real refuge from the world but they’re also a lot about psychology and sociology; how people interact with one another. They’re not really life-changing but they’re some of the best written books I’ve ever read. There’s a connection to daily life and they delve into people’s minds who have very different values to mine. I did one year of cultural organisation management (which is basically anthropology) and maybe that’s the appeal of these books for me: seeing how people operate in different settings, like the office.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to about Savant eCommerce Amsterdam?
To get inspired by other companies throughout our industry and learn how they handle the whole digital transformation, both within the company and in terms of how it impacts their connection with the customer.
Update 18.04.18: This interview was edited post-publication at Heineken’s request.
Vriesekoop will be speaking on “Demystifying Digital: Innovation, AI, and Digital Transformation” at Savant eCommerce Amsterdam on 24th-25th April. Her case study will explore the value and possibilities of using AI, chatbots and image recognition in digital strategy. To buy tickets for the event, head here.
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