From surviving to thriving in the era of continuous transformation
Unify Issue 5
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.
Nancy Rademaker of Nexxworks
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.
Nancy Rademaker, Nexxworks
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.