When Going Digital Gets Real

by Stephen Frieder

posted on 01-29-2018

In the era of digital experiences, customer knowledge is currency. After all, you need to know your customers intimately if you want to engage them in a meaningful way. So it’s a shame that some parts of the enterprise can invest millions in analytics, research, and focus groups without ever actually talking to a real-life customer.

That’s why I love my job. I run the America’s sales organization for Adobe’s enterprise business and I speak with our customers every single day about the opportunities, hopes, and challenges they face with their digital strategies. While our customers come from a variety of different industries and verticals — from media, to retail, to hospitality, and more — there’s a remarkable consistency in the challenges they have and the concerns they voice as they lead their businesses through digital transformation.

There’s a lot we can learn when we stop trying to talk to our customers and start listening to them instead. In that spirit, here are five key things I hear from my customers, when going digital gets real for them.

1. Digital is no longer a side project — it’s the core business.

Even five years ago, it was common for businesses to treat digital as just another sales or marketing channel. Now it is clear that every single part of the business needs to work together to support a successful digital strategy.

The reason? Rapidly changing customer expectations. Customers expect to have a unique relationship with every business. They expect brands to remember who they are, understand their needs, anticipate their interests, engage in conversations, and provide personalized experiences. Every part of the business has to be accountable to the customer relationship and collaborate to provide a great experience at each and every touch point.

One of the things I hear consistently from customers is that they’re looking for ways to create, keep, and manage these relationships with their customers across every part of the business. This mirrors the findings of Adobe’s 2017 Digital Trends survey, which found that 71 percent of all respondents believe that “optimizing the customer journey across multiple touch points” is very important for their marketing efforts.

2. Silos kill digital and data opportunities.

Without fail, each customer I speak to is excited about the possibilities for maximizing the potential of their customer data. And they each have the same challenge — making use of it effectively.

As one customer puts it, “One of the biggest assets we have is our customer data, but we’re struggling to break down the data silos in my organization. It keeps us from realizing the full value.”

It turns out that digital technology makes it really easy to collect data. The hard part is getting that data to flow across organizations and leveraging it in effective decision-making. In their 2016 reportThe age of analytics: Competing in a data-driven world — the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that, “The biggest barriers companies face in extracting value from data and analytics are organizational.”

The bottom line is this — you’ll get more out of your customer data if you stop thinking of it as an IT project, and start thinking of it as more of a business and cultural challenge.

3. Change management is key to maximizing technology.

Once businesses grasp the scope of the cultural challenge in going digital, investing in change management becomes common sense. Employees at every level of the business have to learn new skills, new language, new processes, and new KPIs as they develop closer accountability to the customer experience.

In their 2017 report — The State of Digital Transformation — Altimeter found that “low digital expertise among employees and leadership” and “company culture” were two of the top three challenges for digital transformation initiatives.

Forward-looking businesses will invest as equally in training as they do in tools, and think through the new roles and responsibilities that may be required to manage the customer journey from beginning to end.

Typically, this change needs to start at the top. That’s why many successful businesses have created new roles in the C-suite — like chief digital officer or chief customer officer — to own responsibility for the digital experience at a high level, with accountability directly to the CEO.

In 2014, a survey by the CCO council found that 10 percent of fortune 500 companies and 22 percent of Fortune 100 companies already had a chief customer officer. From my conversations with customers, that percentage has undoubtedly grown in the last three years, and will continue as customer experience takes center stage in the mindshare of CEOs.

4. Quick wins are critical.

When you start your digital transformation it’s important to know where you want to be in 24 months, but think about how to build momentum along the way.

Being able to show immediate, tangible results goes a long way towards creating buy-in with your internal stakeholders, and avoiding the resistance to change that can slow down your digital efforts.

Look for ways to roll things out iteratively. One of the great things about improving your digital strategy is that even small changes can show immediate benefit.

As one of our customers was rolling out a new personalization initiative, they were able to show that conversion increased 18 percent in the first four months. That’s the kind of quick win that eliminates second-guessing and helps keep everyone focused on the big picture.

5. The best are never satisfied.

If you think you’re struggling to optimize your digital strategy, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in some pretty good company.

Many of the customers I speak with are widely recognized as the digital leaders in their industry, and the one thing they all have in common is that they are never satisfied. The truth is that the best digital businesses all think they need to do better. Customer expectations change so rapidly, and the best technology practices are still in their infancy, so there is always room for improvement.

Success in digital transformation comes not from meeting a finite goal, but from a commitment to continuous change. Digital leaders are always looking for new ways to increase their empathy and understanding of the customer, apply new efficiencies to their processes, and deliver new value to their customer experience.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Education, Financial Services, Government, Healthcare, Industry, Manufacturing, Media & Entertainment, Retail, Telecom, Travel & Hospitality

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