We all know that customers aren’t just influenced by products and services when choosing who to give their business to – it is the customer experience that comes with buying them that has a bigger effect. The necessity and quality of your products is indeed important, but every market has its players; every company has at least one competitor, and as a result, customers can nearly always choose to have their needs met elsewhere.
This is why product knowledge is so important within any company. Demonstrating strong knowledge and expertise of your products is crucial for creating a positive customer experience and instilling faith and trust within the customer. Without accurate or available product knowledge, your products may as well be worthless. Yet many companies fail to do this well.
Covering the basics
Building a dependable product knowledge base within your employees all starts from the bottom, when you are developing your product and establishing your brand value. Your company needs to be able to answer the basics about your product in order to clearly convey where it fits in with the rest of society. Consider the following:
What is the purpose of your product or service for the customer?
How can it be described? (size, shape, colour, function, benefits)
How can customers access it; how is it delivered to them?
How much does it cost and what are the conditions for its use?
There are other questions and aspects of your product that you are recommended to consider for your own benefit. These include:
Why your brand is the best avenue through which to obtain the product
Availability of the product, and how economical or sustainable it is to produce
The wider implications of using your product, environmentally or socially
Whether your product is likely to be around for a long time (longevity), or whether it is time-sensitive or dependent on certain conditions (like environment or location).
All of this information must be relayed as readily as possible, both in verbal and written practice. It is one thing to provide the back story of your product, along with its uses and benefits, on the pages of your website or within your product literature or brochures. But your staff and salespeople need to be able to deliver it too, by retaining all of this information and being able to explain it in a simplified, customer-centric way.
Technical jargon across all of your customer touch points is not recommended – this can turn customers away and fail to tell them what they really need to know, which is, “How can this product help me?”
This is, of course, where your sales and customer service reps really come into their own.
A tailored customer experience
Ask any customer about what makes a great customer experience and they will usually mention something pertaining to genuineness, uniqueness and a human touch. Customers like it when they are treated like people, so a customer service rep that pays close attention to their needs is much more likely to gain a sale.
This is an area where product knowledge is crucial, as it means understanding your product so thoroughly that your reps are able to make it work for any customer. A wider knowledge that is more in-depth is the best way of ensuring your staff will be able to help that particular customer and offer a unique, personalised service that is sure to impress.
At LUSH Cosmetics, new recruits are trained to know almost every single product inside and out before hitting the shop floors, and even then there is continuously more to be learned. “It is vital that our teams understand the products they are selling so they can find the correct product – not just sell them the latest favourite,” LUSH co-founder Rowena Bird says.
Similarly, the customer service teams of mobile network companies like T-Mobile won’t just try to sell handsets, but will make the customer’s choice more affordable by offering them bespoke packages to make the product more affordable. This might involve buying a lower end package with added-on extras so the customer gets everything they’re looking for, or offering an updated version of an older handset.
Either way, it is this ability to recommend the best option to the customer based on their needs, desires or circumstances that shows you have their best interests at heart. This in turn builds trust between business and customer and leaves the customer feeling assured and positive about their purchase.
Benefits over features
While listing your product’s features enables the customer to make an informed decision on their own, it can also leave them feeling a little overwhelmed with information and at worst, unable to see what value the product will have in their own lives.
You must therefore be able to explain exactly how the product could make a difference to the customer – whether it will make them look better; feel better, or their life easier; happier; healthier or more productive. This again is where your knowledgeable and perceptive customer service reps come in.
And what’s the best way to get to know any product? By using it, of course. It is recommended that all employees go through the process of purchasing your product and have a go at using it themselves. This will enable them to see the unique benefits it could potentially bring from a first-hand perspective. They will be essentially stepping into the shoes of your customers and see the product’s functions and features in whole new light.
Looking from the outside in
And last of all, don’t forget customer feedback – that vital thing that gives you precious insight into what your customers really think, and enables employees to expand their knowledge.
When asking your customers for feedback via surveys, ratings or emails, be sure to ask that they are as honest as possible. It is only by knowing both the good and bad aspects of your products that you will be able to overcome problems and grow your company knowledge.
The growth of any new product or business is a journey that the whole team should embark on together. Above all, remember that every setback is just another opportunity to learn.
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
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About Adele Halsall
Adele Halsall is a writer and researcher for Customer Service Guru. She is passionate about retail and consumer trends, and how this is shaped and governed by advertising and social marketing.
She is particularly experienced in marketing and customer engagement, and enjoys contributing to ongoing debates related to best business practices, start-up culture, and the culture of customer relations.
The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.
Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:
Email marketing will need to become smarter
Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.
Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable
Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.
Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.
Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever
It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.
Big Data for personalization plays a key role
Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.
Visual media matters
A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?
A few more tips:
Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
Read the Digitalist Magazine and get the latest insights about the digital economy that you can capitalize on today.
About Sunny Popali
Sunny Popali is SEO Director at www.tempocreative.com. Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.
As 2015 winds down, it’s time to look forward to 2016 and explore the social media and content marketing trends that will impact marketing strategies over the next 15 months or so.
Some of the upcoming trends simply indicate an intensification of current trends, however others indicate that there are new things that will have a big impact in 2016.
Take a look at a few trends that should definitely factor in your planning for 2016.
1. SEO will focus more on social media platforms and less on search engines
Clearly Google is going nowhere. In fact, in 2016 Google’s word will still essentially be law when it comes to search engine optimization.
However, in 2016 there will be some changes in SEO. Many of these changes will be due to the fact that users are increasingly searching for products and services directly from websites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.
There are two reasons for this shift in customer habits:
Customers are relying more and more on customer comments, feedback, and reviews before making purchasing decisions. This means that they are most likely to search directly on platforms where they can find that information.
Customers who are seeking information about products and services feel that video- and image-based content is more trustworthy.
2. The need to optimize for mobile and touchscreens will intensify
Consumers are using their mobile devices and tablets for the following tasks at a sharply increasing rate:
Sending and receiving emails and messages
Researching products and services
Reading or writing reviews and comments
Obtaining driving directions and using navigation apps
Visiting news and entertainment websites
Using social media
Most marketers would be hard-pressed to look at this list and see any case for continuing to avoid mobile and touchscreen optimization. Yet, for some reason many companies still see mobile optimization as something that is nice to do, but not urgent.
This lack of a sense of urgency seemingly ignores the fact that more than 80% of the highest growing group of consumers indicate that it is highly important that retailers provide mobile apps that work well. According to the same study, nearly 90% of Millennials believe that there are a large number of websites that have not done a very good job of optimizing for mobile.
3. Content marketing will move to edgier social media platforms
Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat weren’t considered to be valid targets for mainstream content marketing efforts until now.
This is because they were considered to be too unproven and too “on the fringe” to warrant the time and marketing budget investments, when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were so popular and had proven track records when it came to content marketing opportunity and success.
However, now that Instagram is enjoying such tremendous growth, and is opening up advertising opportunities to businesses beyond its brand partners, it (along with other platforms) will be seen as more and more viable in 2016.
4. Facebook will remain a strong player, but the demographic of the average user will age
In 2016, Facebook will likely remain the flagship social media website when it comes to sharing and promoting content, engaging with customers, and increasing Internet recognition.
However, it will become less and less possible to ignore the fact that younger consumers are moving away from the platform as their primary source of online social interaction and content consumption. Some companies may be able to maintain status quo for 2016 without feeling any negative impacts.
However, others may need to rethink their content marketing strategies for 2016 to take these shifts into account. Depending on their branding and the products or services that they offer, some companies may be able to profit from these changes by customizing the content that they promote on Facebook for an older demographic.
5. Content production must reflect quality and variety
More and more businesses are focusing marketing efforts on content. This means that, as customers have more content to choose from, competition is going to increase significantly.
In 2016, content will remain King, with an increasing focus on variety and and quality. When companies are creating their content marketing strategies for 2016, they may wish to consider the following when they make their final decisions:
Both B2B and B2C buyers value video based content over text based content.
While some curated content is a good thing, consumers believe that custom content is an indication that a company wishes to create a relationship with them.
The great majority of these same consumers report that customized content is useful for them.
B2B customers prefer learning about products and services through content as opposed to paid advertising.
Consumers believe that videos are more trustworthy forms of content than text.
Here is a great infographic depicting the importance of video in content marketing efforts:
A final, very important thing to note when considering content trends for 2016 is the decreasing value of the keyword as a way of optimizing content. In fact, in an effort to crack down on keyword stuffing, Google’s optimization rules have been updated to to kick offending sites out of prime SERP positions.
6. Oculus Rift will create significant changes in customer engagement
Oculus Rift is not likely to offer much to marketers in 2016. After all, it isn’t expected to ship to consumers until the first quarter. However, what Oculus Rift will do is influence the decisions that marketers make when it comes to creating customer interaction.
For example, companies that have not yet embraced storytelling may want to make 2016 the year that they do just that, because later in 2016 Oculus Rift may be the platform that their competitors will be using to tell stories while giving consumers a 360-degree vantage point.
Last August, a woman arrived at a Reno, Nevada, hospital and told the attending doctors that she had recently returned from an extended trip to India, where she had broken her right thighbone two years ago. The woman, who was in her 70s, had subsequently developed an infection in her thigh and hip for which she was hospitalized in India several times. The Reno doctors recognized that the infection was serious—and the visit to India, where antibiotic-resistant bacteria runs rampant, raised red flags.
When none of the 14 antibiotics the physicians used to treat the woman worked, they sent a sample of the bacterium to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for testing. The CDC confirmed the doctors’ worst fears: the woman had a class of microbe called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Carbapenems are a powerful class of antibiotics used as last-resort treatment for multidrug-resistant infections. The CDC further found that, in this patient’s case, the pathogen was impervious to all 26 antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In other words, there was no cure.
This is just the latest alarming development signaling the end of the road for antibiotics as we know them. In September, the woman died from septic shock, in which an infection takes over and shuts down the body’s systems, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Other antibiotic options, had they been available, might have saved the Nevada woman. But the solution to the larger problem won’t be a new drug. It will have to be an entirely new approach to the diagnosis of infectious disease, to the use of antibiotics, and to the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—all enabled by new technology.
Keeping an Eye Out for Outbreaks
Like others who are leading the fight against AMR, Dr. Steven Solomon has no illusions about the difficulty of the challenge. “It is the single most complex problem in all of medicine and public health—far outpacing the complexity and the difficulty of any other problem that we face,” says Solomon, who is a global health consultant and former director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance.
Solomon wants to take the battle against AMR beyond the laboratory. In his view, surveillance—tracking and analyzing various data on AMR—is critical, particularly given how quickly and widely it spreads. But surveillance efforts are currently fraught with shortcomings. The available data is fragmented and often not comparable. Hospitals fail to collect the representative samples necessary for surveillance analytics, collecting data only on those patients who experience resistance and not on those who get better. Laboratories use a wide variety of testing methods, and reporting is not always consistent or complete.
Surveillance can serve as an early warning system. But weaknesses in these systems have caused public health officials to consistently underestimate the impact of AMR in loss of lives and financial costs. That’s why improving surveillance must be a top priority, says Solomon, who previously served as chair of the U.S. Federal Interagency Task Force on AMR and has been tracking the advance of AMR since he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1981.
A Collaborative Diagnosis
Ineffective surveillance has also contributed to huge growth in the use of antibiotics when they aren’t warranted. Strong patient demand and financial incentives for prescribing physicians are blamed for antibiotics abuse in China. India has become the largest consumer of antibiotics on the planet, in part because they are prescribed or sold for diarrheal diseases and upper respiratory infections for which they have limited value. And many countries allow individuals to purchase antibiotics over the counter, exacerbating misuse and overuse.
In the United States, antibiotics are improperly prescribed 50% of the time, according to CDC estimates. One study of adult patients visiting U.S. doctors to treat respiratory problems found that more than two-thirds of antibiotics were prescribed for conditions that were not infections at all or for infections caused by viruses—for which an antibiotic would do nothing. That’s 27 million courses of antibiotics wasted a year—just for respiratory problems—in the United States alone.
And even in countries where there are national guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, those guidelines aren’t always followed. A study published in medical journal Family Practice showed that Swedish doctors, both those trained in Sweden and those trained abroad, inconsistently followed rules for prescribing antibiotics.
Solomon strongly believes that, worldwide, doctors need to expand their use of technology in their offices or at the bedside to guide them through a more rational approach to antibiotic use. Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to adopt digital technologies, but Solomon thinks that the AMR crisis could change that. New digital tools could help doctors and hospitals integrate guidelines for optimal antibiotic prescribing into their everyday treatment routines.
“Human-computer interactions are critical, as the amount of information available on antibiotic resistance far exceeds the ability of humans to process it,” says Solomon. “It offers the possibility of greatly enhancing the utility of computer-assisted physician order entry (CPOE), combined with clinical decision support.” Healthcare facilities could embed relevant information and protocols at the point of care, guiding the physician through diagnosis and prescription and, as a byproduct, facilitating the collection and reporting of antibiotic use.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s antibiotic stewardship division has deployed a software program that gathers information from electronic medical records, order entries, computerized laboratory and pathology reports, and more. The system measures baseline antimicrobial use, dosing, duration, costs, and use patterns. It also analyzes bacteria and trends in their susceptibilities and helps with clinical decision making and prescription choices. The goal, says Dr. David Haslam, who heads the program, is to decrease the use of “big gun” super antibiotics in favor of more targeted treatment.
While this approach is not yet widespread, there is consensus that incorporating such clinical-decision support into electronic health records will help improve quality of care, contain costs, and reduce overtreatment in healthcare overall—not just in AMR. A 2013 randomized clinical trial finds that doctors who used decision-support tools were significantly less likely to order antibiotics than those in the control group and prescribed 50% fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Putting mobile devices into doctors’ hands could also help them accept decision support, believes Solomon. Last summer, Scotland’s National Health Service developed an antimicrobial companion app to give practitioners nationwide mobile access to clinical guidance, as well as an audit tool to support boards in gathering data for local and national use.
“The immediacy and the consistency of the input to physicians at the time of ordering antibiotics may significantly help address the problem of overprescribing in ways that less-immediate interventions have failed to do,” Solomon says. In addition, handheld devices with so-called lab-on-a-chip technology could be used to test clinical specimens at the bedside and transmit the data across cellular or satellite networks in areas where infrastructure is more limited.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can also become invaluable technology collaborators to help doctors more precisely diagnose and treat infection. In such a system, “the physician and the AI program are really ‘co-prescribing,’” says Solomon. “The AI can handle so much more information than the physician and make recommendations that can incorporate more input on the type of infection, the patient’s physiologic status and history, and resistance patterns of recent isolates in that ward, in that hospital, and in the community.”
Speed Is Everything
Growing bacteria in a dish has never appealed to Dr. James Davis, a computational biologist with joint appointments at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago Computation Institute. The first of a growing breed of computational biologists, Davis chose a PhD advisor in 2004 who was steeped in bioinformatics technology “because you could see that things were starting to change,” he says. He was one of the first in his microbiology department to submit a completely “dry” dissertation—that is, one that was all digital with nothing grown in a lab.
Upon graduation, Davis wanted to see if it was possible to predict whether an organism would be susceptible or resistant to a given antibiotic, leading him to explore the potential of machine learning to predict AMR.
As the availability of cheap computing power has gone up and the cost of genome sequencing has gone down, it has become possible to sequence a pathogen sample in order to detect its AMR resistance mechanisms. This could allow doctors to identify the nature of an infection in minutes instead of hours or days, says Davis.
Davis is part of a team creating a giant database of bacterial genomes with AMR metadata for the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC), funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to collect data on priority pathogens, such as tuberculosis and gonorrhea.
Because the current inability to identify microbes quickly is one of the biggest roadblocks to making an accurate diagnosis, the team’s work is critically important. The standard method for identifying drug resistance is to take a sample from a wound, blood, or urine and expose the resident bacteria to various antibiotics. If the bacterial colony continues to divide and thrive despite the presence of a normally effective drug, it indicates resistance. The process typically takes between 16 and 20 hours, itself an inordinate amount of time in matters of life and death. For certain strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, though, such testing can take a week. While physicians are waiting for test results, they often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics or make a best guess about what drug will work based on their knowledge of what’s happening in their hospital, “and in the meantime, you either get better,” says Davis, “or you don’t.”
At PATRIC, researchers are using machine-learning classifiers to identify regions of the genome involved in antibiotic resistance that could form the foundation for a “laboratory free” process for predicting resistance. Being able to identify the genetic mechanisms of AMR and predict the behavior of bacterial pathogens without petri dishes could inform clinical decision making and improve reaction time. Thus far, the researchers have developed machine-learning classifiers for identifying antibiotic resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii (a big player in hospital-acquired infection), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. MRSA, a worldwide problem), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (a leading cause of bacterial meningitis), with accuracies ranging from 88% to 99%.
Houston Methodist Hospital, which uses the PATRIC database, is researching multidrug-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA. Not only does resistance increase the cost of care, but people with MRSA are 64% more likely to die than people with a nonresistant form of the infection, according to WHO. Houston Methodist is investigating the molecular genetic causes of drug resistance in MRSA in order to identify new treatment approaches and help develop novel antimicrobial agents.
The Hunt for a New Class of Antibiotics
There are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and then there’s Clostridium difficile—a.k.a. C. difficile—a bacterium that attacks the intestines even in young and healthy patients in hospitals after the use of antibiotics.
It is because of C. difficile that Dr. L. Clifford McDonald jumped into the AMR fight. The epidemiologist was finishing his work analyzing the spread of SARS in Toronto hospitals in 2004 when he turned his attention to C. difficile, convinced that the bacteria would become more common and more deadly. He was right, and today he’s at the forefront of treating the infection and preventing the spread of AMR as senior advisor for science and integrity in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “[AMR] is an area that we’re funding heavily…insofar as the CDC budget can fund anything heavily,” says McDonald, whose group has awarded $14 million in contracts for innovative anti-AMR approaches.
Developing new antibiotics is a major part of the AMR battle. The majority of new antibiotics developed in recent years have been variations of existing drug classes. It’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was introduced. Less than 5% of venture capital in pharmaceutical R&D is focused on antimicrobial development. A 2008 study found that less than 10% of the 167 antibiotics in development at the time had a new “mechanism of action” to deal with multidrug resistance. “The low-hanging fruit [of antibiotic development] has been picked,” noted a WHO report.
Researchers will have to dig much deeper to develop novel medicines. Machine learning could help drug developers sort through much larger data sets and go about the capital-intensive drug development process in a more prescriptive fashion, synthesizing those molecules most likely to have an impact.
McDonald believes that it will become easier to find new antibiotics if we gain a better understanding of the communities of bacteria living in each of us—as many as 1,000 different types of microbes live in our intestines, for example. Disruption to those microbial communities—our “microbiome”—can herald AMR. McDonald says that Big Data and machine learning will be needed to unlock our microbiomes, and that’s where much of the medical community’s investment is going.
He predicts that within five years, hospitals will take fecal samples or skin swabs and sequence the microorganisms in them as a kind of pulse check on antibiotic resistance. “Just doing the bioinformatics to sort out what’s there and the types of antibiotic resistance that might be in that microbiome is a Big Data challenge,” McDonald says. “The only way to make sense of it, going forward, will be advanced analytic techniques, which will no doubt include machine learning.”
Reducing Resistance on the Farm
Bringing information closer to where it’s needed could also help reduce agriculture’s contribution to the antibiotic resistance problem. Antibiotics are widely given to livestock to promote growth or prevent disease. In the United States, more kilograms of antibiotics are administered to animals than to people, according to data from the FDA.
One company has developed a rapid, on-farm diagnostics tool to provide livestock producers with more accurate disease detection to make more informed management and treatment decisions, which it says has demonstrated a 47% to 59% reduction in antibiotic usage. Such systems, combined with pressure or regulations to reduce antibiotic use in meat production, could also help turn the AMR tide.
Breaking Down Data Silos Is the First Step
Adding to the complexity of the fight against AMR is the structure and culture of the global healthcare system itself. Historically, healthcare has been a siloed industry, notorious for its scattered approach focused on transactions rather than healthy outcomes or the true value of treatment. There’s no definitive data on the impact of AMR worldwide; the best we can do is infer estimates from the information that does exist.
The biggest issue is the availability of good data to share through mobile solutions, to drive HCI clinical-decision support tools, and to feed supercomputers and machine-learning platforms. “We have a fragmented healthcare delivery system and therefore we have fragmented information. Getting these sources of data all into one place and then enabling them all to talk to each other has been problematic,” McDonald says.
Collecting, integrating, and sharing AMR-related data on a national and ultimately global scale will be necessary to better understand the issue. HCI and mobile tools can help doctors, hospitals, and public health authorities collect more information while advanced analytics, machine learning, and in-memory computing can enable them to analyze that data in close to real time. As a result, we’ll better understand patterns of resistance from the bedside to the community and up to national and international levels, says Solomon. The good news is that new technology capabilities like AI and new potential streams of data are coming online as an era of data sharing in healthcare is beginning to dawn, adds McDonald.
The ideal goal is a digitally enabled virtuous cycle of information and treatment that could save millions of dollars, lives, and perhaps even civilization if we can get there. D!
Despite the progress made in some countries, I am also aware of others that are still resistant to digitizing their economy and automating operations. What’s the difference between firms that are digital leaders and those that are slow to mature? From my perspective in working with a variety of businesses throughout Europe, it’s a combination of diversity and technology availability.
European companies are hardly homogenous. Comprising 47 countries across the continent, they serve communities that speak any of 225 spoken languages. Each one is experiencing various stages of digital development, economic stability, and workforce needs.
Nevertheless, as a whole, European firms do prioritize customer acquisition as well as improving efficiency and reducing costs. Over one-third of small and midsize companies are investing in collaboration software, customer relationship management solutions, e-commerce platforms, analytics, and talent management applications. Steadily, business leaders are finding better ways to go beyond data collection by applying predictive analytics to gain real-time insight from predictive analytics and machine learning to automate processes where possible.
Small and midsize businesses have a distinct advantage in this area over their larger rivals because they can, by nature, adopt new technology and practices quickly and act on decisions with greater agility. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of European firms are embracing the early stages of digitalization and planning to mature over time. Yet, the level of adoption depends solely on the leadership team’s commitment.
For many small and midsize companies across this region, the path to digital maturity resides in the cloud, more so than on-premise software deployment. For example, the flexibility associated with cloud deployment is viewed as a top attribute, especially among U.K. firms. This brings us back to the diversity of our region. Some countries prioritize personal data security while others may be more concerned with the ability to access the information they need in even the most remote of areas.
Technology alone does not deliver digital transformation
Digital transformation is certainly worth the effort for European firms. Between 60%–90% of small and midsize European businesses say their technology investments have met or exceeded their expectations – indicative of the steady, powerhouse transitions enabled by cloud computing. Companies are now getting the same access to the latest technology, data storage, and IT resources.
However, it is also important to note that a cloud platform is only as effective as the long-term digital strategy that it enables. To invigorate transformative changes, leadership needs to go beyond technology and adopt a mindset that embraces new ideas, tests the fitness of business models and processes continuously, and allows the flexibility to evolve the company as quickly as market dynamics change. By taking a step back and integrating digital objectives throughout the business strategy, leadership can pull together the elements needed to turn technology investments into differentiating, sustainable change. For example, the best talent with the right skills is hired. Plus, partners and suppliers with a complementary or shared digital vision and capability are onboarded.
The IDC Infobrief confirms what I have known all along: Small and midsize businesses are beginning to digitally mature and maintain a strategy that is relevant to their end-to-end processes. And furthering their digital transformation go hand in hand with the firms’ ability to ignite a transformational force that will likely progress Europe’s culture, social structure, and economy.