All too often, IT is seen as an inward-looking function. The Board are exhausted and tired by issues and problems that the aim has simply been to provide basic services at the minimum cost. It’s a race to the bottom.
But a good IT strategy is aligned with the business strategy. And that means IT should be tightly bound in with marketing, sales and service. When this is executed well, IT genuinely has the ability to transform a business.
Businesses that can connect with this are, understandably, valued far higher than their low-tech competitors. These opportunities should be the focus of the Board’s discussions about IT.
So what exactly is Digital Transformation?
For our clients, Digital Transformation simply means using IT to deliver dramatic improvement. That’s different to just an upgrade or fixing some niggling problems. It means: using IT to make a significant change for the better.
That may just mean simple IT done well – that’s surprisingly rare! Or it may mean genuine technology innovation, something that is breaking new (or new’ish) ground.
We simplify this issue by defining 4 different kinds of transformation:
1. Market break-through
2. Wow customers
3. Internal redesign
4. Tame the risks
For an explanation about the 4 types, read our post.
This briefing is more information about the second kind, that we call: “Wow customers”.
But we’ve always done it this way
All too often we engage with customers in a certain way because this is the way we’ve always done it. Or because this is the way everyone does it.
And that may mean we put our clients through a series of steps that suit us, but may not suit them. And as a business grows and becomes more complicated it can become more difficult to see this for what it is.
Have you ever tried opening a new bank account? Don’t bother – it’s too hard!
Want to get your car serviced? Spend 10 minutes waiting on the phone, wait 2 weeks for a slot, then spend half an hour each way driving to the garage.
Buy a product online? You’ll be plagued by ads for the same product, but you don’t need to buy it again!
When done properly, digital technology can offer you ways to find and engage with customers in more personal and relevant ways; to offer them genuine value-adds; or to allow them to interact with you in the way they want to.
Avoid Competing on Price
These can be small improvements, but they can allow you to stand out from the crowd. And this can present a critical business advantage because it allows you to “de-commoditise” your products or services and to avoid competing purely on price.
Many customers are short of time and frustrated by inflexible suppliers. Quality and convenience can matter more than price. Many people want to really connect with brands they enjoy. Simple ongoing support mechanisms, reliable delivery and streamlined follow-on services can be more important than simply buying cheaply.
Many people don’t get around to making purchases or switching suppliers because they are simply not approached in the right way, at the right time with the right product.
This kind of Digital Transformation is all about:
- new ways of offering your products to new audiences, more specifically targeted or positioned
- allowing your customers to get the experience they want, how and when they want it, rather than imposing processes on them that happen to suit you.
Without changing the underlying business model or products or services, new technology now provides ways to transform how you engage with your customers and how they experience your brand.
This area of technology often feels like it has become an “arms race” with companies offering ever-more and customers wanting ever more. For example,
- next day delivery used to be a premium service, but is rapidly becoming normal
- valuable information used to be expensive, now people are surprised if there is a cost
- people expect companies to market to them accurately based on their needs, their browsing and their buying history, but of course they also want their privacy to be respected
customers want immediate responses and find even a short wait in a telephone queue to be unacceptable
- 24/7 access to your progress on a job is now normal
- many customers want to be able to interact with your systems using their technology rather than yours – they expect their mobile phone to be their “universal remote control” for the world!
People’s expectations have been reset as a result of their domestic experiences of ecommerce and the web and their expectations of B2B has been raised by their experience of B2C.
In this context, one of our clients, Sleeperz, a lifestyle budget hotel group wants to raise the bar for its customer experience.
Sleeperz is a company that believes in friendly service, stylish design, great value and a comfortable night’s sleep.
Their CEO, David Myers explained that:
“The hospitality sector is highly competitive and fairly low-tech, but we want to provide a best-in-class service for our customers. For example, the check-in and check-out processes can start to look quite antiquated – queue up, fill in forms, get a key or print your receipt.
We want to provide a more modern experience, to match or exceed the best in the business.”
Our Principal, John Cawrey, is Sleeperz’s IT Director and he explained about this ongoing project:
“We are researching solutions to allow guests to self-check-in and check-out using a tablet embedded in a pedestal kiosk or even allowing guests to check-in before they arrive using their own mobile phone or tablet. If their phone is NFC enabled then they could use that as their key, so effectively they can arrive and walk straight through reception to their room if they want. It’s how many airlines work now, where you print your own boarding cards or have the boarding card on your phone.“
David Myers added:
“This allows us to focus customer service where it matters. So we can still have staff on the desk but they can help guests who want to deal with a person or who have a problem. Or they can make you a coffee whilst you self-check-in at the kiosk”
Another client, ComXo, provide outsourced switchboard services to large professional services firms and IT is paramount to delivering the exceptional client experience that ComXo is known for.
Andrew Try, MD of ComXo explains:
“Providing outsourced switchboard to large corporates is very complex and requires a multitude of sophisticated technologies. The goal is to achieve an integration that delivers a seamless service to the companies’ employees and clients alike.
Our technologies enable us to deliver a highly personalised service, even to the largest businesses with over 30,000 staff, at a global level. Our skilled operators are able use these tools to identify callers and handle any enquiries appropriately and efficiently at any time.“
As ComXo’s CTO, Steve Clarke has created a strategy and overseen the delivery of technology for several years. Steve says:
“ComXo deliver a bespoke service for each of their clients. Off-the-shelf software is therefore not the right solution. We seek to find solutions that enable ComXo’s team of Virtual Personal Assistants to be experts on each of their customers. The systems need to be intuitive, user friendly and reliable.
We have developed technologies that enable ComXo staff to work remotely; whether in their offices, at their clients’ offices or at their home. This helps to manage costs and of course provides a great work/life balance to employees.
We have also created a simplified and automated billing platform that not only reduces costs but also provides a better service for clients. For instance, when clients use ComXo’s Muiltivoice conference system, calls are tagged with a cost code which appears on the client’s bill. That enables professional services firms to track their costs against cases and bill accordingly – particularly beneficial to Law firms who form a large part of the client base.”
“ComXo are able to stand out from the competition and punch above their weight, working for large firms and major corporates, because they understand the market and move quickly. They stay focussed on transformation projects that make a major difference to their clients and don’t get bogged down in details.”
Where to Begin
The opportunity for ambitious mid-market businesses is to think about your real customers’ needs and to work backwards from there. Start with a blank sheet of paper and work out what your customers really value (which might not be the same as what you currently give them!).
In our experience mid-sized businesses often have a huge advantage over their larger competitors in this kind of transformation because directors are close enough to the coal-face to personally see and hear what customers are saying, and the company is small enough to make rapid decisions and to make changes quickly.
Starting the journey towards a Digital Transformation is perhaps the most difficult step. The following questions can be a useful kickstart for a Board workshop…
1. What is it your market really needs? What do customers really care about and value?
2. If you started with a blank sheet of paper, how would you do things differently?
3. How can you remove the barriers to enable you to lead this transformation?
Imagine that, tomorrow morning, you read in your trade press that one of your competitors has made a radical change that leaves you behind.
Be the one who does this first!
Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.