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If there is one thing Mobile World Congress 2016 confirmed - amongst all the talk of wearables, the IoT and virtual reality being the future - it’s the fact that we are living in what is now a truly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
Today every company is pretty much a technology company, with digital transformation affecting businesses across all sectors, and no doubt in 12 months’ time at MWC17 the business and technology landscape will shift again.
It is little wonder that organisations are struggling to adapt and keep up.
Digital transformation is not only redefining how we connect with customers, it's redefining our business models, the way we deliver value and how we make money.
This realignment calls for a different way of operating within organizations, and a modernization of business philosophy.
Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Uber are widening the narrative on business strategy and culture, from an emphasis on executing against a roadmap, and drawing up comprehensive plans and strategies, to focusing on deep empathy while applying agile ways of working and continuous improvement.
These organizations understand that we are now (or soon will be) in the ‘listening economy’, in which the plethora of devices around us, from wearables and injectables, to the connected car, city and home, are allowing companies to do the most human of things, listen.
Services like Google Now, Siri, and even Apple Pay are beginning to stitch together information and data points from a myriad of objects and sensors to bring prescient like value to the end consumer.
In this ‘age of the customer’, the only sustainable competitive advantage is in becoming customer obsessed, and this does not mean creating broad strategies of how to get close to the customer.
But as outlined in a recent report by Forrester Research, it means creating customer-obsessed cultures, in which “every employee throughout the organization puts themselves in the shoes of the customer and experiences the company as they are experiencing it”.
Organisations which demonstrate the above, are utilising three principles to create customer-obsessed cultures. These are:
1. Understanding the end-to-end customer lifecycle
When Apple released the iPhone, which is probably the most influential consumer electronics product ever made, it was the first time in the modern era we saw a company proactively and deliberately architecture customer experience right into the product itself.
From the packaging, product design and product experience, right through to the Apple website and retail store, everything was designed to enhance each touch-point on the consumer’s path to purchase and beyond.
This focus on using the end-to-end customer lifecycle to create an eco-system of physical and digital touch-points which enhanced the company’s overall value proposition, has been at the heart of Apple’s success over the last decade.
It's also among the greatest catalysts for the evolution of business in recent times.
Customer-obsessed organisations appreciate the customer journey is no longer about mapping disparate touchpoints, but taking a unified view of every interaction a customer has with a brand, and then strategically designing and reinforcing these interactions at key ‘moments of truth’ throughout the customer lifecycle.
2. Employing design-centric thinking
As well as mapping the end-to end journey, organisations that create winning cultures in the new business environment are using design-thinking to extract rich data on customer experiences (particularly emotional ones).
This allows them to understand customer journeys in a very granular way.
Using psychology, ethnography and empathy, they build a deep and accurate picture of the customer segments they currently serve and those they wish to serve.
They focus on the emotional resonance of a value proposition, as much as the utility or convenience a product or service may provide.
Ultimately, these organisations understand that getting to know the aspirations, values and pain points of customers, gives them the best platform from which to deliver breakthrough customer experiences.
3. Connecting strategy to execution
While end-to-end journeys and design thinking enable organisations to problem solve and create product and service experiences, they are not necessarily a vehicle to deliver those experiences to market.
To facilitate release and execution, customer-focused organisations are using agile ways of working to design, build, test and deploy an MVP (minimal viable product) to market at speed.
This approach is not applied to teams in isolation, but to the entire organisation.
From marketing to finance, all business units come together and are centred on delivering great customer experiences quickly, utilising a test and learn approach to consistently deliver for customers in the moments that matter most.
For me this is possibly the most important component in creating a fit for purpose customer-focused culture, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
We all love the sexy aspects of digital transformation - great apps, beautiful design, fantastic usability - but if organisations don’t employ processes which allow them to transition from yearly, quarterly or even monthly release cycles, they cannot expect to keep pace with the increasing evolution of customer and technology trends.
And these process enhancements are not limited to ways of working.
Agility is required in every part of the delivery cycle, which means the IT stack has to be structured in such a way as to enable quick and frequent releases to market, with the ability for organisations to iterate in motion.
While many organisations now accept the fact that digital transformation is here to stay, the truth is we are probably at the beginning of what could be decades of change.
The first part of the digital revolution shifted the balance of power firmly in the direction of consumers, however leading organisations are beginning to use end-to-end customer journeys, design thinking and agility (in tandem), to create customer-obsessed cultures that are placing power back into the hands of brands.
While improving legacy systems and enhancing front-end functionalities are a must, ultimately it is healthy cultures that heal broken processes, and create products that connect with customers on a deep and profound level.
The organisations that understand this and address the legacy thinking and approaches that are holding us back, will be the ones who not only survive in our volatile world, but prosper.