Digital transformation: Bringing CX growth visions to life

As digital transformation and automation reshape our growth expectations in 2021, business leaders are looking beyond the horizon to drive strategic growth agendas in the post-COVID era.

So much of the past year has focused on reacting to short-term disruption, plugging holes and weathering the storm. With some light at the end of the tunnel, enterprise leaders must now explore how they can foster a culture that is perpetually agile and constantly learning.

This emerging era is one where progressive leaders help boards and leadership teams consolidate lessons from the global pandemic, improve customer experiences and set a vision for growth models that respect customer privacy.

They must bring together the worlds of hyper-personalisation, AI, ethics and workplace culture to deliver consent-led engaging, exciting and enticing customer experiences.

It’s a fascinating, complex and critical discussion topic, and it’s one I had the privilege of exploring when I spoke with Linda A. Hill, Ph.D, Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

How should leaders bring their customer experience and growth visions to life, and what are the biggest challenges they’re facing? Here are some of the highlights from our discussion.

“We’ve all been in the same storm, but we haven’t been in the same boat”

Professor Hill says leaders are now taking the time to reflect since the pandemic hit and, realising that organisations are more resilient than perhaps expected, it has brought forward some amazing leadership within their companies.

While digital transformation was on the radar for most businesses, the pandemic has forced leaders to accelerate their efforts. The need for agility, innovation and creation of new experiences for customers is critical to business growth in what has become a digital-first world.

Now isn’t the time to sell to customers, it’s the time to listen

Having studied exceptional leaders in innovation for the past 20 years, Professor Hill says companies need to start from scratch in their understanding of customer needs.

The disruption of the past year has significantly changed customer behaviour and expectations. The fact is, the ‘old ways’ of doing things simply won’t work in 2021.

She says very few companies score highly on ‘customer intimacy’.

“[Most companies] didn’t really know their customers all that well before the pandemic, so they certainly don’t necessarily know them well enough now to figure out what to do,” Professor Hill says.

With so many customer touchpoints and such varying expectations, now is the time for companies to truly engage with their customers and understand their new needs to better deliver the experiences they want.

Leveraging technology to deliver insight

Giving people data in a way they can actually visualise and make sense of it is an increasingly important factor in any organisation.

Professor Hill shared an example of the power of data visualisation within a hospital, where nurses were provided with technology to create their own dashboards from their myriad data to better understand what was happening in their units.

As Professor Hill says, people are visual, and if you provide them with the tools to make it simple, it unleashes their creativity.

For marketers, leveraging this kind of technology to gain insights into the customer will ultimately lead to greater foresight in what customers expect and what customer behaviours will be down the line.

Privacy and trust must be at the forefront of innovation

As our access to and use of customer data continues to grow, it’s only going to become more critical that businesses use that data in an ethical and safe way.

It’s about earning and maintaining the trust of customers. To do that, leaders now must think about data as consent-led, strategically and systemically.

Professor Hill says companies are now starting to think about what data they actually need to really help the customer. She says it’s not only an added security risk, but it can also muddy the insights you draw by having too much data to sift through.

Customer behaviour will continue to change in response to constant technological advancement and other extraneous factors. For business leaders, it’s critical to continually power your teams to embrace change and be creative in solving new customer experience challenges.