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The madness of attempting digital transformation without the customer

By Gareth Dunlop
The madness of attempting digital transformation without the customer

There currently exists a surfeit of self–proclaimed digital transformation experts in management consultancies, digital agencies and software development organisations.  They follow in the proud tradition of the search engine optimisation guru, the social media consultant and latterly the digital strategist.  For too long the advice dispatched by such doyens is too close to the “in the land of the blind the one–eyed man is king” dictum for comfort.

So I am categorically not claiming to be one.

However, my professional world (experience design) overlaps with this world (digital transformation) adequately for me to be afforded a ringside seat for a number of transformation programmes currently ongoing with some of the largest and best–known brands in Ireland and further afield.  And thus, I ask you to indulge me as I observe digital transformation through my own specialist area of customer experience.

Of all the priorities attached to digital transformation (such as customer, leadership, technology, culture, process) it is the very definition of madness to attempt it without having the customer as the nucleus of the process.

The reason?

Because the customer is the driving force of the transformation process.  Not the leadership team.  Not the technological advances.  Not the cultural changes.  Not the process improvements.

They are the driving force because they are already digitally transformed.  And everything to do with their decision–making process within the buying cycle is transformed.

It means that they are used to accessing all of the information they need as part of the decision–making process instantly on a mobile device.

It means that they are used to accessing reviews and peer feedback about what a product or service is really like, not just what the organisation claims it is like.

It means that they are used to significant choice when buying most products or services, with easy access to a range of competitive options.

It means that they are used to ruthlessly comparing and contrasting competitors, often with the help of review or price comparison applications.

It means they expect to be spoken to in a certain way, with a certain timeliness and with a certain clarity.

It means they expect to understand, select, compare, decide, and buy completely effortlessly.

Frankly, after decades of being victims of the cynically efficient marketing machinery of many global brands, the customer is mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

What’s more, the digital expectations of your transformed customers are not set by your competitors.  They are set by global exemplars of transformation – digital brands which rule the world – like Amazon, BBC, Facebook, WhatsApp, Spotify, Skyscanner, Apple, Tinder, Ted, Pinterest, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat and YouTube.

All of these brands have something in common, namely an almost obsessional fascination and commitment to the customers they serve.  Every aspect of the experience they offer is wrapped around the goals, behaviours and contexts of the users they serve.

Digital leaders please take note.

Digital transformation without the user is not transformation, because it lacks the driving force, the nucleus, the purpose for the activities.  It might be software updating, it might be process improvement, heck it might even be cultural change, but it’s not transformation.

So don’t expect it to have a transformative effect on performance.

The customer is already transformed.  Empowered by a life–changing set of devices, technologies and information, they are engaging with organisations in a new way.

The starting point for digital transformation is acknowledging that truth and putting the customer back where they belong – at the centre of your universe and the reason you have a job.

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