For every company (and CMO) focused on digital transformation, the fact that it’s all about the customer seems like a no-brainer. Yet the reality is that many companies are still woefully far from not only executing on that concept, but actually getting it. Even more of a reality—it’s out of their hands. Think of it this way–companies don’t get to decide how customer centric they are, their customers decide.
I was a guest at the Pegaworld event in Las Vegas this last week and the most interesting part of the event was the opportunity to hear from Pega’s customers about their digital transformation stories, and how they are navigating this journey—hand in hand with their customers.
Pega CEO Alan Trefler’s opening keynote focused on this concept: customers drive everything about digital transformation. One of my favorite of Trefler’s lines: “Experience is about the customer. Software is about efficiency. Software is nothing if it doesn’t enhance the customer experience.” That’s a pretty spot on observation. Especially from the CEO of a software company.
Customer Experience: The New Competitive Battlefield
Let’s talk about customer experience. In the report Predicts 2016: CRM Customer Service and Support, Gartner analysts brought customer relationship management and customer experience to the fore as never before. Some of their predictions included:
- Understanding customer intent, and balancing corporate goals with customer expectations will become increasingly important.
- It will not be unusual to see organizations developing Customer Engagement Hubs and centering their operations around customer engagement and the customer experience as a whole.
It’s a fact—the new battlefield, the new place that businesses compete, at all levels, is customer experience. Am I right? Today, digital transformation is as much about staying competitive as it is about staying in business. Finding, attracting, serving, and continuing to stay connected to and building relationships with customers is critical, and focusing on operations is how you make that happen. In Forrester’s Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service, the focus of the report was on building operations in such a way that every interaction should to be designed such that it’s easy, efficient, and creates a satisfying interaction for the customer.
Customer Experience Isn’t a One-Off—It’s a Fundamental Business Shift
Speaking of customer expectations, you can’t nail customer experience, and create satisfying interactions without tools that allow you to gather insight, deliver real-time, personalized assistance, and make every customer touchpoint, from initial interaction to fulfillment. Which of course is what Pegasystems is hoping you’ll look to them to help with.
The message that resonated most for me throughout the event, and one that came from multiple presenters and interviews, was the fact that understanding your customers isn’t a one day, or one and done thing. It’s a commitment and a radical change in the way most companies do business. It’s an undertaking that demands a lifetime of engagement and understanding, and you’ve got to continually be innovating so that you can interact with customers on their terms, at the time they want, on their channels of choice, and in a myriad of ways.
And yes, we probably agree on these things—in theory anyway. But what’s really happening? I think we are far away from this customer-centric ideal. We talk about this incessantly, yet we continue to run organizations that are siloed. We have few ways to really understand the customer journey and we’re often focusing on everything but that. We see examples of this every day working with our clients, from small to midsized businesses to enterprises. In many instances they still mistakenly believe they are driving the train and that customers will just come along, but they are in for a rude awakening. All businesses, no matter the focus, no matter the vertical, are in danger of becoming commodities in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. It is the ones who understand this, and who truly put their customers front and center, and who create operations that revolve around every aspect of the customer journey, who position themselves to compete most effectively, and to grow and prosper. Alongside their customers.
Trefler made a point about cupcakes that I thought especially salient. He likened many business operations today to baking lots of little cute cupcakes. A cupcake for customer service, a cupcake for one division, and a cupcake for another, cupcake for HR, a cupcake for data and insights, a cupcake for marketing, and a cupcake for sales. And we often feel really good about all the cupcakes we’re baking, but the reality is that cupcakes are little silos. What we really need, said Trefler, are “layer cakes inside cupcakes. Businesses need layered cupcakes.” An even better point, “Putting your cupcake in the cloud isn’t going to make it any less of a cupcake. And if you’re replicating data so that your cupcake has something to run on, you’re operating in a new version of the 1990s.” I think that at that point everyone in their audience was nodding their head, and rethinking some of their strategies.
Mastering Digital Transformation is Easy—Change Everything, Make it Better
In sum, when it comes to mastering digital transformation, it’s really pretty simple. It starts with the customer, it progresses with the customer, and it ends with the customer. Success is really all about enabling your customers to be successful, and doing everything you can do to facilitate that. The keys to that? Building layers that are interoperable within your organization (and using the right software products to do that), being ever outcome-oriented, focusing always on user experience and design that keeps the customer top of mind, and being agile, quick to innovate and adapt. What do you think? What did I miss? Where is your business, or your clients, in the digital transformation process? Are you truly embracing and focusing on customer experience, or are you not yet there? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”