Digital transformation success starts by letting go

Every day new articles are published about how the web and various digital platforms have transformed the way that we live our lives. And there’s a lot more change ahead as the digital landscape will look very different from today’s.

Those of us in an industry focused on serving customers cannot ignore the reams of advice telling us how to build a successful customer-centric organisation. And reading yet another piece of advice recently got me thinking about what being a truly customer-centric business means, and what it involves.

In May this year my colleague, David Aponovich, attended a Forrester Forum for Digital Transformation. The speakers said that successful digital transformation was dependent on companies first transforming their own thinking from being customer-aware to customer-led. Only one word has changed, but that simple word requires an entirely different way of thinking. In fact, this shift in mind-set is so extensive that many organisations believe that they’ve already made customer experience the driving force behind their approach to business when, in fact, they are very far from doing so.

The on-going goal is to have what Forrester calls a ‘Customer Obsessed Operating Model’ embedded in the company.

Of all the communication techniques in a marketer’s portfolio, it’s in the design and delivery of digital experiences where brands reveal themselves as truly customer-led or not.

The kingmakers of a customer-led approach are the IT and digital teams, whether working as two distinct communities who collaborate closely or as one team. Whatever the structure, they must migrate and mature their list of services to include the enabling, and provision of, digital developments, technology solutions and training and also spearhead innovations.

The road to a customer-led culture often starts with an enormous leap of faith and letting go of the ‘old ways’. It’s about having the confidence to work from the outside in and iterate indefinitely – since change is inevitable – and not to work out from the inside out, releasing waves of changes without input. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship with the customer. Digital experience solutions can allow every part of the company ecosystem to give customers what they want, not what the company thinks they want.

Digital transformation means different things to different companies. That’s a given. But in acknowledging its conceptual power to enable customer-centricity, the guiding question to ask is ‘how can we do what we do better?’ - whether that’s manufacturing cars or launching innovative services in the sharing economy - in combination with highly personalised, customised experiences. Experiences should, wherever possible, create an emotional connection and fully respond to a want or need.

When developing a customer-led digital transformation strategy, generally at least one of three key business objectives needs to be built into it. Decide whether the objective is to accelerate or increase revenue and profit, save money or drive a bigger competitive edge, or a combination. Lastly, ask how will you generate a return that can be measured, and potentially see that return accelerated further down the line. With those questions in mind, there are three factors I think customer experience advocates should consider in order to become more ‘customer-obsessed’:

  • Gain C-level input and leadership to drive customer obsession. Digital experience and digital channels receive a lot of attention but every area of the company needs to be inspired and moving toward this goal. Taking everyone on the journey will involve changing some attitudes and connecting work from different areas to form great customer outcomes. First, establish a vision and communicate core beliefs. The most important tenet is that everyone knows that every employee is there to service the customer, not only traditionally “customer-facing” roles like sales, marketing, customer service and lately, the team running the website or commerce site. Secondly, the leadership must articulate a clear strategic direction and empower leaders under them to drive change throughout the organisation. This includes measurable goals and a roadmap that shows how connecting a company’s customer obsession, including digital experience, can deliver positive business outcomes;
  • Prepare for faster digital acceleration. A customer-led approach involves new ways of building and delivering digital experiences and offerings to help the customer where they are, everywhere, every time, to win, serve and retain customers. Digital tools and communication, are now more than ever, at the centre of the customer's universe. IT, digital teams, marketing, customer service and other groups must work together to root out any slow, plodding digital developments and iterations and substitute them for agile, fast-moving teams and practices that anticipate and respond to market opportunities, aid innovation and deliver services to customers quickly and consistently.
  • Use digital technology to save money and drive revenue and growth. Adopting new technology has long been tied to saving money internally and making business practices more efficient. Yet in a digital-first, customer obsessed world, this is the wrong approach. Ensuring your entire business is on a path to being led by the customer requires you to think about investing in digital tools and technology to achieve this goal, not the other way around. It is possible to deliver more information and services that are meaningful to customers to drive conversions and sales. Challenge the core working group to choose and implement digital technologies to build competitive differentiation and retain customers who love what you offer them.

Raising the game to design superior digital experiences and operate as a digital, open business requires solid strategy, technologies, expertise and the right culture. These elements of business practice all need to work in harmony towards that one never-ending goal of an organisation that is customer-led to the core.

The customer-obsessed culture operating model is not how most businesses are run today; to commit and put it in place requires a lot of ‘letting go’ along the journey.

Martyn Eley, VP EMEA, Acquia

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Dudyrev