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Becoming more agile can start with a small step

(Image credit: Image Credit: Rawpixel / Pixabay)

Widespread lockdowns have been in force around the world, in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, forcing employees to work remotely and business models to adapt fast to become digital-first and stay feasible. While some companies were prepared, having made digital transformation a top priority even before the pandemic, others have had to respond quickly in order to continue meeting customer expectations around service.

Now, as more and more countries in Europe begin to open up again, companies are coming to the realization that over the next few months they must focus not only on recovery, but on creating greater flexibility and resilience within their business. That way, they can be better prepared for a second wave, if it comes, or any other as yet unforeseeable market difficulties. 

What businesses have learnt is that agility is now a non-negotiable, and those I talk to who don’t have the right set up know they need to transform – and swiftly. However, given how unpredictable our current situation is, many businesses are unsure of the best way to begin. So, here are 3 recommendations from me on approaching digital transformation in the post coronavirus era.

Focus on time to value

Despite understanding the pressing need to make changes, few management teams have the ways or means of upgrading their entire infrastructure at the moment. With little foresight around the next 90 days or so, let alone the next year, they are naturally wanting to conserve their cash. Prolonged, complex and expensive transformation projects that take months, or even years, to get up and running and show their benefit, and which therefore provide little competitive advantage, are not an attractive proposition.

However, incremental projects can still make a positive impact on your business. Determine the solutions that can deliver returns with a quick time to value. How can you, for example, create a more omnichannel approach to customer service, to join the dots and consolidate all the disparate data you have on a customer in one place? This will provide your marketing and sales teams with invaluable insights and mean you can offer far better customer service.

With good data, you can make good decisions

Organizing and analyzing your customer data to gain insights you can act on will also give you a better understanding of where you are likely to gain the most value from any investments you make, and help you to decide which projects and innovations are worth pursuing. Aim to join up all your data, so that nothing remains separate in siloes and install live dashboards based in the cloud that can give you real-time business performance updates. The better the data you have available to work with, the smarter the decisions you can make.

Whoever holds the data holds the keys to the castle, as the saying goes. So, it is also crucial that businesses make it accessible to everyone – not just to senior management or IT. That way, all departments can pull the data they need when they need it - and in the right format for their needs - to make better decisions, in the moment, with real-time reporting.

Zendesk customer Etsy, for example, is a global online marketplace with over 2.8 million sellers and 50 million buyers. A few months ago, the company saw a slowdown in sales and then a sudden increase in demand for one thing in particular: masks. Sellers who were previously processing a couple of hundred orders began to receive thousands. And while products normally ship in 24 hours, there were a whole host of issues with getting these orders out in a timely manner.

“Our teams had to jump in very, very quickly to help sellers match fulfilment to their capacity and reach out to buyers,” explains Etsy CFO, Rachel Glaser. In order to help sellers meet buyers’ expectations, Etsy used customer insight and reporting software to gain visibility into various operations, so they could surface problem areas such as discrepancies between fulfilment and capacity, and support address these promptly and reach out to buyers.

Keep communication levels high

Maybe the greatest challenge when it comes to effectively bringing about change is getting widespread buy in from your employees. Digital transformation, however incremental, is as much about a shift in mindset, as it is about the technology. Consider your staff your internal customers - because they are. Help them adapt to new workflows and technology through training and regular communication, and really listen to their feedback, so that new ways of working really do work for everyone. As EBP says, integrating technology that is designed to be user-centric is likely to be well received, if teams have been struggling with complex systems until now.

Increase engagement with the concept of change by involving teams in the process - ask them to look out for areas that are ripe for innovation and make them active drivers of it. You can also use data to demonstrate the benefits to the business of any modifications you make. How many mundane tasks have been eliminated thanks to automation? How much time is now saved thanks to more seamless processes and digital workflows? Are workloads being better managed and if so, what are the positive effects on people?

In these turbulent times, it is especially important to communicate effectively and with empathy. Don’t worry too much about over communicating, especially while your workforce is so spread out. It’s more important to try to engage with all your employees, so that no one feels left behind. This might mean more one to one time with each of your direct reports to really get to grips with how any changes are impacting their specific responsibilities.

Andrew Lawson, SVP EMEA, Zendesk