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In the Information Age, We Need Brain-Based Enterprises

Peter Cook

Nearly 30 years ago, Fred Moody and Bill Gates recognized that the basis of competitive advantage had fundamentally shifted from the agrarian age to the industrial era to the information superhighway, when it was said that Microsoft’s only factory asset is the human imagination. The corresponding shift is from what I call brawn-based industries (BBIs) to brain-based enterprises (BBEs).

Research shows that our brains absorb five times more information every day as compared with people in 1986. At a personal level, we must be consequentially at least five times better at “swimming with information” rather than “drowning in data.” During our leisure time every day, we each process 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words. In such a world, strategy changes from a long-range plan to a flexible posture, where the half-life of knowledge is in freefall, and success depends on creativity as a key input and innovation a key output. “Adapt, innovate, or die” has never been truer in an age of exponential information growth and discontinuity.

Enterprises based on brainpower therefore need to understand higher-order business questions of leadership, innovation, and creativity to stay ahead. Questions such as:

  1. Where do creativity and imagination come from at a personal level? How can you make collective creativity work? What part do tools and techniques for divergent and convergent thinking play in the mix?
  1. What kind of leadership is required to make innovation and creativity “business as usual” in your enterprise?
  1. What ensures creativity turns into innovation? What stops it?
  1. What are BBEs really doing beneath the veneer?
  1. How do culture and structure support or limit innovation and creativity? What can we do about it? How may we become a genuine learning enterprise?

We will briefly address some of these questions in this article.

Is everyone creative?

The short answer to the question is “yes.” However, not all creativity is what I call “good creativity.” In business, good creativity is defined by ideas that are novel, appropriate, and feasible such that they turn into sustainable innovations rather than next week’s fads. While we are all creative, we need to channel our good ideas into sustainable innovations. Random creativity is the stuff of some entrepreneurs who don’t manage to find a market for their ideas.

Pure creativity is fine, as in the case of pure artists who have no concern for an outlet for their creativity. Issues such as timing can radically affect the degree to which an idea turns into an innovation. Witness the example of the Sinclair C5 environmentally friendly scooter. The idea was possibly 30 years ahead of its time, much in the same way that Da Vinci “invented” the helicopter some 400 years before the technology existed to realize his invention.

It helps to have some definitions:

  • Creativity is the thinking of novel ideas
  • Innovation is the conversion of a novel idea into a profitable or sustainable product/service or process

Is creativity the enemy of strategy?

Some people fear that creativity is the enemy of strategy. This is perhaps not too surprising, when one considers some might say the 2008 world recession was caused by the overzealous application of creativity to financial services. I’d argue this was not mindful creativity, rather a case of mindless gambling. In a world where market dominance is no longer dependent on size or speed to market, the ability to continuously innovate is key and depends on the ability to be agile and even antifragile. Creativity sits beneath these qualities as a core competence for a disruptive world.

A good business strategy therefore allows for responsiveness and agility, and this requires creative responses to opportunities which are consistent with the general direction of travel. It also requires the consideration of the appropriateness of ideas rather than just novelty per se. A bad strategy either fails to respond or, worse, flip-flops around to every fad that appears on the horizon. The result is there is no focus in what the enterprise does. Good creativity is needed at all levels to help BBEs flex their corporate synapses and corpuscles to respond to a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

How do you lead a BBE?

“With thought and care” is my starter on this. Many creative people refuse to be managed, but they can be led. This is what Dan Pink talks about when he discusses the alignment of passions with purpose. Embedded in this short sentence is a huge mass of complexity around finding what gets people out of bed in the morning to come to work at your enterprise and, more importantly, what keeps them coming over the long term. How then do you design work as an experience that gets the best out of your people and engages them to give their best?

There can be no single HR strategy for the motivation of intelligent people. But in general we look to the higher-order categories on Maslow’s triangle and to leadership strategies toward the more consultative end of Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Leadership Style continuum. Virgin is a good case study in this sense, in so far as they have cracked the engagement and leadership issue in their enterprises. My book Leading Innovation, Creativity, and Enterprise features an exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson where he describes aspects of The Virgin Way.

How do you structure a BBE?

We need a much more organic/biological outlook on organization development than an industrial/process model if we are to create enterprises which think, learn, adapt, and respond to a changing environment. I compare an industrial approach to one that is more biological, drawing the analogy with how bees create complex structures with simple organization. As we computerize businesses and commerce in general, it seems we are in danger of returning to industrial algorithms for getting things done which do not align with the hugely complex organisms we are as human beings.

While writing this, I suffered the indignity of phoning the tax office to get a form to send my corporation tax in, only to be told that I could not have the form without a special code. Trouble was, the reason I called them was because they had not sent the code in the first place! I pointed out the Kafkaesque nature of the problem, yet the “assistant” was only able to repeat the algorithm and tell me they were unable to do anything but “what the system required.” Clearly Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is some way from being a BBE, having handed its brain over to a robot!

That said, the BBEs I’ve interviewed may have the same amounts of information and intelligence as others, yet they use it to superior value. I studied the examples of Metro Bank, Innocent Drinks, Ingentis, and other companies to gain practical insights into how these ideas translate into everyday practice. In a world where we have all the data we need to do amazing things, the job of leaders and those they lead is to convert that data into information with utility and value to those who need it.

Feed your mind … and the rest will follow

It’s one thing to be personally creative. It’s quite another to create a culture where creativity and innovation are embedded into the “corporate corpuscles” of the enterprise. Part of that individual and collective mindset concerns the ability to embrace failure. In Virgin’s case, Richard Branson says he has lost count of the times people told him his new ideas would not succeed. I learned from Richard that we shared parental encouragement to always keep trying. In Richard’s case he says:

“My mother taught me that I should not focus on past regrets, so with regards to business I don’t. My teams and I do not allow mistakes or failures to deter us. In fact, even when something goes wrong, we continue to search for new opportunities”

Three takeaways

  1. BBEs are not just concerned with encouraging individuals to bring their minds, bodies, and souls to work. They make collective creativity and innovation work at the enterprise level.
  1. BBEs do this by encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship and through the use of formal and informal strategies and tools for divergent and convergent thinking.
  1. BBEs often manage to pull off the clever trick of making a large enterprise feel like a small one, where people can combine their passions with a purpose. To do complex things in a large enterprise, the organizational design principle of simplicity must be used.

Industries are realizing the advantages of the Internet of Things and digital transformation at different speeds and on different scales. See how IDC sees the landscape in The Internet of Things and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries.

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What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters

Meghan M. Biro

Generation Z’s arrival in the workforce means some changes are on the horizon for recruiters. This cohort, born roughly from the mid-90s to approximately 2010, will be entering the workforce in four Hiring Generation Z words in 3d letters on an organization chart to illustrate finding young employees for your company or businessshort years, and you can bet recruiters and employers are already paying close attention to them.

This past fall, the first group of Gen Z youth began entering university. As Boomers continue to work well past traditional retirement age, four or five years from now, we’ll have an American workplace comprised of five generations.

Marketers and researchers have been obsessed with Millennials for over a decade; they are the most studied generation in history, and at 80 million strong they are an economic force to be reckoned with. HR pros have also been focused on all things related to attracting, motivating, mentoring, and retaining Millennials and now, once Gen Z is part of the workforce, recruiters will have to shift gears and also learn to work with this new, lesser-known generation. What are the important points they’ll need to know?

Northeastern University led the way with an extensive survey on Gen Z in late 2014 that included 16- through 19-year-olds and shed some light on key traits. Here are a few points from that study that recruiters should pay special attention to:

  • In general, the Generation Z cohort tends to be comprised of self-starters who have a strong desire to be autonomous. 63% of them report that they want colleges to teach them about being an entrepreneur.
  • 42% expect to be self-employed later in life, and this percentage was higher among minorities.
  • Despite the high cost of higher education, 81% of Generation Z members surveyed believe going to college is extremely important.
  • Generation Z has a lot of anxiety around debt, not only student loan debt, and they report they are very interested in being well-educated about finances.
  • Interpersonal interaction is highly important to Gen Z; just as Millennials before them, communicating via technology, including social media, is far less valuable to them than face-to-face communication.

Of course Gen Z is still very young, and their opinions as they relate to future employment may well change. For example, reality is that only 6.6% of the American workforce is self-employed, making it likely that only a small percentage of those expecting to be self-employed will be as well. The future in that respect is uncertain, and this group has a lot of learning to do and experiences yet ahead of them. However, when it comes to recruiting them, here are some things that might be helpful.

Generation Z is constantly connected

Like Millennials, Gen Z is a cohort of digital natives; they have had technology and the many forms of communication that affords since birth. They are used to instant access to information and, like their older Gen Y counterparts, they are continually processing information. Like Millennials, they prefer to solve their own problems, and will turn to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials and to troubleshoot before asking for help. They also place great value on the reviews of their peers.

For recruiters, that means being ready to communicate on a wide variety of platforms on a continual basis. In order to recruit the top talent, you will have to be as connected as they are. You’ll need to keep up with their preferred networks, which will likely always be changing, and you’ll need to be transparent about what you want, as this generation is just as skeptical of marketing as the previous one.

Flexible schedules will continue to grow in importance

With the growth of part-time and contract workers, Gen Z will more than likely assume the same attitude their Millennial predecessors did when it comes to career expectations; they will not expect to remain with the same company for more than a few years. Flexible schedules will be a big part of their world as they move farther away from the traditional 9-to-5 job structure as work becomes more about life and less about work, and they’ll likely take on a variety of part time roles.

This preference for flexible work schedules means that business will happen outside of traditional work hours, and recruiters’ own work hours will, therefore, have to be just as flexible as their Gen Z targets’ schedule are. Companies will also have to examine what are in many cases decades old policies on acceptable work hours and business norms as they seek to not only attract, but to hire and retain this workforce with wholly different preferences than the ones that came before them. In many instances this is already happening, but I believe we will see this continue to evolve in the coming years.

Echoing the silent generation

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z came of age during difficult economic times; older Millennials were raised in the boom years. As Alex Williams points out in his recent New York Times piece, there’s an argument to be made that Generation Z is similar in attitude to the Silent Generation, growing up in a time of recession means they are more pragmatic and skeptical than their slightly older peers.

So how will this impact their behavior and desires as job candidates? Most of them are the product of Gen X parents, and stability will likely be very important to them. They may be both hard-working and fiscally savvy.

Sparks & Honey, in their much quoted slideshare on Gen Z, puts the number of high-schooler students who felt pressured by their parents to get jobs at 55 percent. Income and earning your keep are likely to be a big motivation for GenZ. Due to the recession, they also share the experience of living in multi-generational households, which may help considerably as they navigate a workplace comprised of several generations.

We don’t have all the answers

With its youngest members not yet in double digits, Gen Z is still maturing. There is obviously still a lot that we don’t know. This generation may have the opposite experience from the Millennials before them, where the older members experienced the booming economy, with some even getting a career foothold, before the collapse in 2008. Gen Z’s younger members may get to see a resurgent economy as they make their way out of college. Those younger members are still forming their personalities and views of the world; we would be presumptuous to think we have all of the answers already.

Generational analysis is part research, but also part theory testing. What we do know is that this second generation of digital natives, with its adaption of technology and comfort with the fast-paced changing world, will leave its mark on the American workforce as it makes its way in. As a result, everything about HR will change, in a big way. I wrote a post for my Forbes column recently where I said, “To recruit in this environment is like being part wizard, part astronaut, part diplomat, part guidance counselor,” and that’s very true.

As someone who loves change, I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be immersed in both the HR and the technology space. How do you feel about what’s on the horizon as it relates to the future of work and the impending arrival of Generation Z? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Social tools are playing an increasingly important role in the workplace, especially for younger workers. Learn more: Adopting Social Software For Workforce Collaboration [Video].

The post What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters appeared first on TalentCulture.

Image: Bigstock

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How The Digital Economy Is Defining An Entire Generation

Julia Caruso

millennial businesswomen using digital technology at work“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

As a part of the last wave of Millennials joining the workforce, I have been inspired by Jobs’ definition of innovation. For years, Millennials like me have been told that we need to be faster, better, and smarter than our peers. With this thought in mind and the endless possibilities of the Internet, it’s easy to see that the digital economy is here, and it is defining my generation.

Lately we’ve all read articles proclaiming that “the digital economy and the economy are becoming one in the same. The lines are being blurred.” While this may be true, Millennials do not see this distinction. To us, it’s just the economy. Everything we do happens in the abstract digital economy – we shop digitally, get our news digitally, communicate digitally, and we take pictures digitally. In fact, the things that we don’t do digitally are few and far between.

Millennial disruption: How to get our attention in the digital economy

In this fast-moving, highly technical era, innovation and technology are ubiquitous, forcing companies to deliver immediate value to consumers. This principle is ingrained in us – it’s stark reality. One day, a brand is a world leader, promising incredible change. Then just a few weeks later, it disappears. Millennials view leaders of the emerging (digital) economy as scrappy, agile, and comfortable making decisions that disrupt the norm, and that may or may not pan out.

What does it take to earn the attention of Millennials? Here are three things you should consider:

1. Millennials appreciate innovations that reinvent product delivery and service to make life better and simpler.

Uber, Vimeo, ASOS, and Apple are some of the most successful disruptors in the current digital economy. Why? They took an already mature market and used technology to make valuable connections with their Millennial customers. These companies did not invent a new product – they reinvented the way business is done within the economy. They knew what their consumers wanted before they realized it.

Millennials thrive on these companies. In fact, we seek them out and expect them to create rapid, digital changes to our daily lives. We want to use the products they developed. We adapt quickly to the changes powered by their new ideas or technologies. With that being said, it’s not astonishing that Millennials feel the need to connect regularly and digitally.

2. It’s not technology that captures us – it’s the simplicity that technology enables.

Recently, McKinsey & Company revealed that “CEOs expect 15%–50% of their companies’ future earnings to come from disruptive technology.” Considering this statistic, it may come as a surprise to these executives that buzzwords – including cloud, diversity, innovation, the Internet of Things, and future of work – does not resonate with us. Sure, we were raised on these terms, but it’s such a part of our culture that we do not think about it. We expect companies to deeply embed this technology now.

What we really crave is technology-enabled simplicity in every aspect of our lives. If something is too complicated to navigate, most of us stop using the product. And why not? It does not add value if we cannot use it immediately.

Many experts claim that this is unique to Millennials, but it truly isn’t. It might just be more obvious and prevalent with us. Some might translate our never-ending desire for simplicity into laziness. Yet striving to make daily activities simpler with the use of technology has been seen throughout history. Millennials just happen to be the first generation to be completely reliant on technology, simplicity, and digitally powered “personal” connections.

3. Millennials keep an eye on where and how the next technology revolution will begin.

Within the next few years Millennials will be the largest generation in the workforce. As a result, the onslaught of coverage on the evolution of technology will most likely be phased out. While the history of technology is significant for our predecessors, this not an overly important story for Millennials because we have not seen the technology evolution ourselves. For us, the digital revolution is a fact of life.

Companies like SAP, Amazon, and Apple did not invent the wheel. Rather, they were able to create a new digital future. For a company to be successful, senior leaders must demonstrate a talent for R&D genius as well as fortune-telling. They need to develop easy-to-use, brilliantly designed products, market them effectively to the masses, and maintain their product elite. It’s not easy, but the companies that upend an entire industry are successfully balancing these tasks.

Disruption can happen anywhere and at any time. Get ready!

Across every industry, big players are threatened — not only by well-known competitors, but by small teams sitting in a garage drafting new ideas that could turn the market upside down. In reality, anyone, anywhere, at any time can cause disruption and bring an idea to life.

Take my employer SAP, for example. With the creation of SAP S/4HANA, we are disrupting the tech market as we help our customers engage in digital transformation. By removing data warehousing and enabling real-time operations, companies are reimagining their future. Organizations such as La Trobe University, the NFL, and Adidas have made it easy to understand and conceptualize the effects using data in real time. But only time will tell whether Millennials will ever realize how much disruption was needed to get where we are today.

Find out how SAP Services & Support you can minimize the impact of disruption and maximize the success of your business. Read SAP S/4HANA customer success stories, visit the SAP Services HUB, or visit the customer testimonial page on SAP.com.

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About Julia Caruso

Julia Caruso is a Global Audience Marketing Specialist at SAP. She is responsible for developing strategic digital media plans and working with senior executives to create high level content for SAP S/4HANA and SAP Activate.

Customer Experience: OmniChannel. OmniNow. OmniWow.

Jamie Anderson, Volker Hildebrand, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Stephanie Overby

The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.

Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”

Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).

The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”

Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images1

Build Around a Big Idea

Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.

As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”

For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.

Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.

Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury

At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images2The company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.

Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.

Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.

QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience

The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.

Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.

For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.

Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.

Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images3Domino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.

Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.

Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions

Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images4Today, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.

By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.

Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin

Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.

Start at the Top

Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”

To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.

Begin with the End in Mind

Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.

Design for the Customer, Not the Company

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images5To date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.

The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.

Put Someone in Charge

Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.

EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”

Centralize Customer Data

Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.

Invest in People

Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images6Rethink Metrics and Incentives

One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.

The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.

Create a Single View of the Company

For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Is The Internet Of Things And Wearable Technology The New Black?

Fred Isbell

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a classic hype cycle phenomenon. Besides forecasts of high growth, it is capturing a large share of interest and overall mindshare.

One thing is clear: The elements of the IoT are here to stay. Once we get past the definition of IoT, which is commonly referred as sensor-based devices and machine-to-machine communications, businesses can open themselves to enormous potential.

When trying to understand new things, I prefer to embrace them as a part of my daily life. When tablets first emerged, I didn’t go anywhere without my trusted iPad. In fact, I sometimes leave my laptop home knowing that I can do most of what I need on this device. And based on that experience, I took my own advice when it came to wearable technology recently – and the results were eye-opening.  I’m now onto my second-generation wearable device, showcasing just how quickly this is all changing.wearable-1

But first let’s jump into the time-travel machine back to February 2015. I was attending the MIT/Sloan School Sports and Analytics conference in Boston, and it seemed that everyone was mentioning wearable technology. The buzz was verified weeks later when I attended the IDC Directions Annual conference, where wearables made the short list of technology ubiquity. A year later, I returned to the MIT/Sloan School Sports and Analytics conference in Boston a little bit wiser. At that point, I invested in a Fitbit and started tracking my own personal statistics for exercise, sleep, and more. Needless to say, the geek in me was in full force as I wore both a Fitbit and a sports watch at the same time. I didn’t want to miss anything, and my middle-aged eyes appreciated the help.

One of the benefits of working for a tech company is the opportunity to adopt new technology in every aspect of my life. My employer, SAP, kicked off a new wellness program, incorporating wearables in how its employees track their health and wellness. I took advantage of this opportunity, replacing my sports watch with a second-generation Fitbit and consolidating two devices into one.

My wearable journey is certainly not complete yet, but it’s become integrated into my life in a very nonintrusive way. Just as my tablet has become an extension of me, so has the wearable device. I even exchange screen shots of my results – such as when I rode my first charity JDRF bike ride over the summer – to friends so we celebrate our achievements.

Very soon, our interactions with the IoT and wearable will become the norm, and we won’t think twice about it. But at the same time, it’s becoming a big business. Market watcher CCS Insight sees this as a US$14 billion market growing to over US$40 billion by 2020. All of these devices will generate even more data, making Big Data bigger than anyone could have predicted.

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All of that data will generate increased demand for applications – especially analytics – to understand, interpret, and use this information. And if you think about it, my Fitbit app on my phone is really a personal business intelligence tool and the ultimate example of the consumerization of IT.

Not surprisingly, tech leaders such as SAP talk about the fusion of business-to-business (B2B) and business- to-consumer (B2B) into what some call “business-to-business-to-consumer” (B2B2C). The proliferation of wearable technology is a great example of this. The market for applications and solutions will increase exponentially – supported by cloud-based delivery and unprecedented demand for the infrastructure to deliver real-time intelligence and much more.

Wearables are indeed the new black as it becomes mainstream and part of society. I’ll come back shortly with a further discussion of how we can apply this technology in sports and analytics. In the interim, I need to head to the gym to get my 10,000 steps and the fitness equivalent to make my Fitbit – and me – happy!

For more on the impact of connected devices, see How Tech Changes Up Health In The Workplace.

Join Fred online: TwitterFacebookLinkedInsap.comSAP Services Hub

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About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell is the Senior Director of SAP Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.