How changing your approach to customers and technology can make your organisation future fit

Whether it’s a controversial McDonald’s advert, another United Airlines fiasco or an ill-judged product design from Dove, it’s hard for a week to go by without hearing another instance of where a business has got it wrong for its customers.

Every business, regardless of sector, has to work harder than ever to create a positive experience for their customers and adapt their services and products to fit with people’s fast evolving lifestyles. But currently there is too much complacency around the urgency and scale of transformation needed to make this happen, which if left unaddressed poses a serious threat to the UK’s status as a global business force.

In a recent Harvard Business Review study, respondents identified ‘creating positive and relevant customer experiences’ as the highest priority for organisations today, with half believing that traditional business models will be obsolete by 2020. For all organisations, adopting a customer-centred approach and using technology to accelerate this shift will put them on the right course to ensuring that they are future fit.

Adopting a customer-centred approach

Customer-centred thinking moves businesses away from focussing purely on the bottom line and transforming the way that core strategy, propositions, products, services and processes are developed. Many businesses may think that they know what customers want, but too few are employing the basic steps needed for a truly customer-focused approach that will end up making a tangible impact on their clients’ experiences. Following these three steps is a good place to start:

1. Agree and embed your vision: In order for any organisation to remain competitive in a volatile market, a clear vision must be articulated across the organisation, engaging staff in what the vision stands for and how it will deliver customer benefit. This is a crucial strategic activity in considering an organisation’s core value proposition and assessing whether it is fit for purpose. It might seem straightforward, but a remarkable number of businesses still fail to properly to communicate their vision internally – if your employees don’t know what you stand for, your customers won’t either.

2. Don’t sit in silos: Having stakeholders from across the organisation working together to define strategy, product and service development is critical to breaking down siloed working and for gaining a stronger shared understanding of customer objectives. On a product and service delivery level, it speeds up delivery by having all key decision makers in the same room and all data points accessible. It also means that innovation is shifted from ‘pie in the sky’ thinking to being grounded in operational viability.

3. Map out what makes customers tick: Customer journey mapping is a method of documenting each interaction between an organisation and their key audiences to assess how the customer experience can be improved. Identifying the key audiences and analysing the channels they use to engage with the organisation is the first important stage. The next step involves documenting the customer experience across these channels and ‘humanising’ the resulting data so that it can be understood by people across the organisation. The greater the body of research, the more reliable the map will be in identifying opportunities to improve the customer experience.

Using technology to accelerate a customer-centred shift

Using technology differently is a fundamental part of shifting towards a more authentic customer-centred approach. Businesses need to change the way in which they use technology - both to map customer experiences more effectively and to create a digitally-led internal culture that impacts on the end customer experience. These five steps will help ensure that technological change is effective and sustainable:

1. Be ready for resistance: when any business starts a process of transformation, it needs to ensure that it has a robust and scalable technology infrastructure. This is often difficult, especially where there are established behaviours and ways of working attached to existing systems. There is often huge resistance to unpicking complex legacy systems’ architecture and databases, however it is vital to be mindful of the relative short term upheaval vs long term business costs of not addressing the issue. There are calculations you can do against maintaining legacy systems and ways of working in line with these systems, weighing them up against the agility and cost savings new technologies can offer.

2. Conduct a systems architecture audit: Start by carrying out a comprehensive audit to understand your current architecture and review how data is transferred or shared between the systems you have in place. This usually includes websites, SSO, transactional platforms, payment gateways, CRM, email, third party tools, APIs, SaaS and Cloud infrastructure.

3. Develop an infrastructure strategy: Once you know what the technical landscape looks like, you need to design an appropriate and scalable architecture for the future. This should reference the organisation’s vision and objectives, future skills and capabilities, as well as a product and service design roadmap. Unlike enterprises that are born digital, older and more established businesses have to develop their future architecture on a base of legacy technologies.

4. Create a new governance model: In the past, most businesses would have been comfortable with a three to five-year transformation programme. But this is no longer possible; to become ‘future-fit’, businesses must be prepared to continuously deliver new functionality, products and services and adapt them to the regularly changing demands of the market. Successful transformation relies on having a ‘hybrid’ architecture with different platforms: trans­actional platforms that are scalable and robust, alongside systems optimised for the end customer experience. In a digitally-led organisation, business and IT work together in an embedded way – this partnership model has to be established before you begin any process of transformation.

5. Use data differently: The way that technology has become embedded in everyday life means that aggregating data sources is now much more achievable. Decisions based on robust and comprehensive data are at the heart of a truly customer-centred culture and ‘big data’ is now central to informing the strategy and development of any ‘future fit’ organisation. Sharing data across systems and divisions within your organisation will enable a much better understanding of your audiences. Regardless of your dependency on legacy systems, you need to ensure that there is a way – through middleware and APIs – to analyse, humanise and utilise the data at your disposal. Technology should enable more effective ways of working and use of both internal and external data. This, in turn, improves the sharing of knowledge and expertise allowing decisions to be based on ‘human-centred’ thinking - key to successful transformation.

In an uncertain economic climate where businesses are under growing pressure, understanding how technology underpins an adaptive culture, and how this can transform customer experiences, should be a top priority for all organisations.

Nick Torday, Managing Director, Edo
Image Credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock