The concept of “digital transformation” can be intimidating. It implies dramatic change (which is always scary), as well as a high degree of complexity (suggesting that you really need to know what you’re doing).
In some cases, there’s agreement on the digital destination, but also questions around where to start and how to translate theory into concrete results. In other cases, the challenge lies in reaching consensus on the digital vision. For older businesses, the digital future is further clouded by the burden of legacy systems and decades of operational entropy.
Under the circumstances, simplicity can be a virtue. Specifically, simplicity defined by a shift in mindset – one that moves from technology evaluations and scenario models to a focus on identifying and solving business problems.
That said, a tactical problem-solving mentality must be adopted within the context of a broader, long-term strategy. Otherwise, efforts will quickly devolve into wheel-spinning and random activity disguised as progress. In other words, you’ll solve problems, but they won’t be problems that matter.
To identify and focus on the strategic problems that are important, apply this straightforward litmus test: Does solving this problem in some way improve the customer experience? If the answer is yes, then the tactical effort is aligned with the strategy.
Three pillars define a pragmatic and results-oriented approach to a customer-centric strategy of digital transformation:
- Identify customer needs and priorities
- Use data to gain insight
- Leverage executive leadership
The Customer’s Shoes
Putting the customer first is certainly not a new idea. Regardless of digital maturity level, the customer is and always has been a critical cornerstone of any business. Over time, however, internal metrics, processes and operational models often take on a life of their own, leading to disconnects from the customer. This can happen, for example, when service desk agents are measured by how efficiently they resolve problems, rather than on their ability to analyze, identify and eradicate the source of those problems. Or when insular application development teams deliver add-ons, new functionality and “improvements” without considering the impact on the user experience.
To avoid this misalignment, it can be useful to step away from traditional performance metrics and adopt a consciously objective assessment of customer priorities and attitudes. This can identify friction points and negative emotional impacts. For example, do customers seethe because your website is confusing and slow? Is your mobile app annoying because it requires a lengthy registration process and sends too many notifications?
Honest assessments of such questions can allow a business to examine its internal capabilities and understand how those capabilities are negatively impacting customers. In turn, defining how technology solutions will benefit customers can help prioritize problems to solve.
Leveraging data analytics is core to any customer experience strategy, and by extension to any digital transformation plan. The potential to glean insights from technology tools is dizzying. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can discern patterns within massive volumes of consumer data. Webcams analyze foot traffic to assess the effectiveness of store displays. AI tools serve as interactive chat bots and scan facial features to identify sentiments and emotion.
While these capabilities are certainly impressive, the reality is that very few enterprises are taking full advantage of such advanced technology. Many, in fact, struggle to make use of existing and readily available data. Decisions around how to begin, what to look for and where to invest can be overwhelming and paralyzing.
Here again, simplicity can break the logjam. Rather than looking for a needle of insight in a haystack of data, businesses can benefit by starting small. To take the example of the mobile app, rather than adding functionality and upgrades within the internal context of the development team, look outwards. Collect a sample of targeted users and pose some basic questions:
- Is this the feature set you need?
- Is the interface intuitive and logical?
- Is the app easy to download and are the steps easy to execute?
- Are we providing a personalized experience?
- Are we making your life easier?
In other words, by focusing on the basics – in this case by paying attention to user responses and acting on them – a business can start to fix real problems.
Executive leadership is essential to driving digital transformation.
We’ve all heard that mantra. And certainly, few would argue the point. Then why is securing that leadership so difficult? A fundamental challenge for many organizations is fragmentation among digital stakeholders. CIOs typically come to the table with a more technical perspective, while marketing executives focus on the latest innovation, often without a clear understanding of the legacy environment and its implications. Disagreements around the proper course to pursue can erupt, followed by turf wars around who should lead the initiative.
When senior executives enter this fray, their leadership roles are often limited to refereeing internal conflicts. In the process, the essence of “digital transformation” can be diluted.
The (once again simple) solution here is to assess the digital transformation strategy in the context of the customer experience. A customer-centric perspective on the part of executive leadership can reconcile conflicting visions among stakeholders and clarify possibilities around the general strategy as well as specific actions.
Digital transformation is certainly hard, but it needn’t always be complicated – and there’s a difference. For many businesses, a relentless focus on customer needs, coupled with initiatives that yield measurable outcomes, can move the needle and at t