Q: While the notion of “digital transformation” is not new, it is still misunderstood. Why do you think that is the case?
A: Part of the problem is that there’s no universal definition. When you hear the phrase, it could be about social strategy, developing an app, customer relationship management (CRM)—or any number of digital tools, depending on the source, but the bigger problem is the phrase itself. It seems to put the focus on transformation for its own sake, separate from any real purpose. I think it’s much more instructive to talk about digital in service of transforming the customer experience.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle facing companies trying to bring about digital transformation?
A: The biggest obstacle can be ambiguity—or even worse, disagreement—about the company’s digital strategy and its role in the overarching customer experience strategy. If you say you’re committed to creating simple, personalized customer experiences but don’t invest in the technology architecture to achieve it, you’ve got a disconnect. Likewise, if your leadership is divided on the purpose of driving customers to digital channels (i.e., is it intended to create a personalized experience, or is it primarily about cost savings?), it’s hard to succeed. Additional risks include underestimating resources required for true transformation—particularly in terms of data availability—and simply taking on too much at one time, so efforts become diluted or lose momentum.
Q: Digital transformation requires a renewed focus on the entire customer experience, but where should companies typically start?
A: For any aspect of the customer experience, digital or otherwise, start with customers’ needs. What do they want to do? What motivates them to act? What makes them hesitate, and with unflinching honesty, what’s their preferred channel for any particular step along their customer journey? If a digital experience meets their needs but also does so with simplicity and surprise, many customers will be fully satisfied with that interaction, but if they need help or have a problem and don’t find it easy to connect in their preferred channel, you can lose a lot of ground.
Q: What role does customer journey mapping play when it comes to creating digital experiences?
A: Customer journey mapping is hugely valuable, as long as it’s a means, not an end. Companies should practice it to determine what, when and how they should shape the customer experience to drive engagement and satisfaction. The “how” will often be through digital touchpoints that make a genuine personal connection with customers and integrate seamlessly with their entire experience of a brand, product or service.
There’s an important implication here that customer journey mapping is valuable as a tool to help craft the ideal customer experience, not just to document what the current experience is. Some companies get stuck in the documentation mode—“We understand our customers because we have painstakingly documented the current experience.” However, that’s only useful if you take the next steps to invest in research to identify genuine customer needs and preferences and then use those insights to refine and evolve the customer journey, of course, optimizing the use of digital touchpoints when they’re the best fit for delivering against those needs and preferences.
Q: What are some of the common pitfalls that companies make when creating a digital strategy?
A: Putting the cart before the horse—either choosing technology before defining requirements or choosing functionality (as in, “We MUST have an app”) before defining what customers truly need. Sometimes, the organizational structure exacerbates this. If “digital” is owned by a separate functional group on the org chart, it can operate in a vacuum, pretty far removed from the folks who understand customer needs and develop the products and services that drive engagement.
Q: In recent years, an increasing number of organizations have established “Digital Center of Excellence” teams. Is that a preferred approach?
A: That depends. Having real digital experts in user experience design, content strategy and web and mobile technologies is essential, of course, but where you position them in the organization can significantly affect their impact. It can be most effective to think of digital expertise as a horizontal, not a vertical. In a horizontal approach, the digital competency is embedded across functional teams to create integrated working groups. With the digital experts working alongside marketing, product owners and information technology (IT), the team is best positioned to think about digital solutions in the context of the whole customer experience, not as isolated whiz-bang technology.
Q: In your opinion, what are the critical characteristics of an organization to promote a change culture for the digital strategy?
A: First, a shared vision about the role digital plays in transforming and supporting the customer experience. Second, a commitment to customer-centric design, including the investment in research to uncover real insights about what customers want. Third, the right infrastructure with executive support and digital capabilities embedded in integrated working teams.
Don’t miss Maria Boos’ Opening Keynote, “Digital Transformation Along the Customer Journey: How to Transform and Operationalize Your Customer Experience” at the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum on May 10, 2016 at 9:00am - 9:50am on key trends in digital transformation that are forging new best practices for simple, relevant and engaging customer experiences.
Maria Boos is the group director of simplification at global branding firm Siegel+Gale. She has 25 years of experience helping companies streamline and simplify complex communications and interactions to enhance customer experience, reinforce the brand and achieve operational efficiencies. Follow her on Twitter @MariaBoos1.