From surviving to thriving in the era of continuous transformation
As a breed, those that work in IT should need no reminding of the speed of technological development, or the profound social changes it has wrought. But when working at the digital coalface, there is often little time to stand back, reflect, and perceive the sweep of time that has led from the world’s first large-scale electronic computer, the Colossus at Bletchley Park in 1944, to the iPhone and beyond.
IT as the cause of social change was a key topic at this year’s Gamma customer conference, presented by Nancy Rademaker of Nexxworks. She sought to demonstrate that digital technology has profoundly changed the rules of business, and that people now think and behave very differently to how they did two decades ago.
As a result, companies wanting to not just survive, but thrive in this new commercial reality, must accelerate the pace of their own technology deployments, and turn old structures and mindsets on their heads.
Rademaker used multiple references to make her point, among them, and perhaps the most compelling of all, was her highlighting of the Nokia 3310 as an example of what happens when a business doesn’t keep up with customer expectations. Launched in 2000, the 3310 was one of the most popular mobile phones of its time, selling around 126 million handsets, yet within a few years it had been killed off by the emergence of the first iPhone. The 3310 was a perfectly sound device – functional, with a long battery life – but Nokia failed to see how technology was changing consumer expectations. While they focused on giving the 3310 operational excellence and small incremental improvements, Apple focused on the customer experience. The rest is (recent) history.
Rademaker’s contention is that technology has changed expectations so much that there is now no such thing as a B2C or B2B company: all companies today are H2H or human to human. In other words, companies are no longer selling products or services, but are in the customer experience business. And humans want and expect relationships with suppliers to be fast, easy, fun and above all personalised.
The customer journey is not and never was a straight line. “People go back and forth all the time,” she observes. “There’s no order, no set timing. It’s chaos. The only thing you can do is create as many touch points with your customers as you can and listen when they talk to you.” Conveniently, the five human senses of sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell have been augmented with digital senses such as Facebook, Instagram and so on.
These generate data that Rademaker describes as the ‘new gold’, and it is how companies can create the touch and listening points she says are so essential to H2H-style business. Of course, to be of value the data has to be collected, analysed and acted upon – and that requires companies to have an AI strategy, right now.
Her advice is that companies shouldn’t fall for the temptation to immediately use the insight to cross-, up-, and deep-sell, but to instead engage with customers. Everyone wants a highly personalised relationship, so the optimum approach is to combine operational excellence with the creation of emotional connections.
Her mantra might be paraphrased as: use digital to the max. Use what it tells you to enable your people to bring joy to customers. Computers can deliver slick processes, but only humans can make other humans smile.
Rademaker says that a business that seeks to thrive in the digital age must put customers first, absolutely at the centre of the company, and that means empowering employees to work for customer happiness within an adaptive culture with an adaptive leadership and management style. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the traditional hierarchical company model is dead.
It does require that people at all levels and in all functions can freely work together on giving customers what she calls the ‘WOW! experience.’ Her conclusion was blunt. Companies that genuinely embrace both elements of change – technological and cultural – will thrive. Those that don’t will dive and die.
...technology has profoundly changed the rules.
In a bid to understand where UK organisations are on the scale between thriving and diving, Gamma commissioned a survey of more than 400 small (up to 100 staff), medium (up to 1,000 staff) and large (1,000 + staff) enterprises. Those asked to take part were from the public sector and commercial fields including financial services, IT, manufacturing and transport and logistics.
On the key question, only 18% said their organisations are thriving. 41% percent said that their business is doing relatively well but failing to reach full potential and, worryingly, a further 41% said that their business is under pressure to keep up and at risk of falling back.
To Rademaker’s observations on the importance of giving customers a great experience, the majority (64%) agreed, with 31% neutral on the idea and 5% thinking it to be not important.
Of the technologies able to help improve the customer experience, Instant Messenger and Web Chat are viewed as the most powerful, followed by email and video conferencing. Nearly three quarters of respondents believe that effective integration between technologies is a bigger contributor towards thriving than stand-alone, non-integrated products.
The crucial role that communications – mobile, telephony and network services – plays in the fight to thrive rather than simply survive is recognised by 79%. Revealingly though, of organisations that self-identified as being in survive or dive mode, more of them said that better telephony and data infrastructure was the key to thriving, whereas those enterprises identifying as thriving are more focused on mobility, security and analytics.
The inevitable conclusion here is that thrivers have already put in place effective voice and data and are using it as the springboard to other technologies. Says Alex Ayers, Gamma’s sales director:
“From the survey a picture emerges of what is underpinning the success and confidence of the thrivers – and it is in part unified communications that are fully integrated with and leveraged by other technologies.”
“Undoubtedly there’s a lesson there for organisations that want to turn things around and join the thriving elites. Note how integrated comms is one of the hallmarks of successful enterprises and ask yourself how well your current telecommunications and data are supporting what you need to achieve. Digital transformation can take longer than you might expect, but you have to get the basics right first.”
Communications are key