All too often, IT is a race to the middle. The C-suite exhausts itself with maintenance and whack-a-mole problems, and the aim becomes simply to provide basic services at minimum cost.
But IT can be an engine for growth. This is Digital Transformation—using IT to make a significant change for the better. It may just mean simple IT done well (which is surprisingly rare!). Or it may mean genuine innovation, using technology to break new ground.
Either way, these opportunities should be the focus of high-level discussions about IT. A good IT strategy is aligned with the business strategy. And that means IT should be tightly connected to marketing, sales and service.
When all this is executed well, IT has the ability to transform a business, giving it an advantage over the competition and significantly raising its value.
We simplify this issue by defining four different kinds of transformation:
So let’s talk about how you can wow your customers.
Start Thinking About What’s Best for Your Customers, Not for You
Too often companies create a series of steps to suit themselves—but not their customers. But it may not suit them. And as a business grows and becomes more complicated, it can become more difficult to see this for what it is.
Think about how time-consuming it can be just to open a new bank account.
Want to get your car serviced? Spend ten minutes on hold, wait two weeks for your appointment, then spend half an hour each way driving to the garage.
Buy a product online? You’ll be plagued by ads for the same product.
All of these are examples of how companies use IT to do what’s best for themselves and not their customers.
However, when done properly, digital technology offers ways to find and engage with customers in more personal and relevant ways; to offer them genuine value-adds; or to allow them to interact with you how they want to.
Avoid Competing on Price
Small improvements allow you to stand out from the crowd. And this presents a critical business advantage because it allows you to “de-commoditize” your products or services and to avoid competing purely on price.
Many customers are short of time and frustrated by inflexible suppliers; in this case quality and convenience can matter more than price. Similarly, simple support mechanisms, reliable delivery and streamlined follow-on services can be more important than price.
Many people don’t get around to making purchases or switching suppliers—not because they’re saving money, but because they are simply not approached in the right way, at the right time, with the right product.
Wow Your Customers
Without changing the underlying business model or products or services, new technology provides ways to transform how you engage with your customers and how they experience your brand.
This kind of Digital Transformation is all about:
- New ways of offering your products to a more specifically targeted audience
- Giving your customers the experience they want, how and when they want it
This area of technology can seem like an arms race, with companies constantly offering more, and customers constantly wanting more. Some examples:
- Next-day delivery used to be a premium service, but is becoming standard
- Valuable information used to be expensive. Now people are surprised if there’s a cost
- Customers expect companies to market to them accurately based on their needs, their browsing and their buying history…
- But of course they want their privacy respected
- Customers want immediate responses—even a short time on hold is unacceptable
- They expect 24/7 access to monitor your progress on a job
- They want to interact with your systems using their own technology
In this environment, how do you wow your customers? By thinking about their needs, rather than your own.
Sleeperz is a lifestyle budget hotel group that believes in friendly service, stylish design, great value and a comfortable night’s sleep. Sleeperz wants to wow its customers by streamlining its customer experience.
CEO David Myers explains: “The hospitality sector is highly competitive and fairly low-tech. We want to provide a best-in-class service for our customers. For example, the check-in and check-out processes can start to look quite antiquated—line up, fill in forms, get a key or your receipt. We want to provide a more modern experience, to match or exceed the best in the business.”
Freeman Clarke Principal John Cawrey is Sleeperz’s CIO.
“We are researching solutions to allow guests to self-check-in and check-out using a tablet embedded in a pedestal kiosk,” Cawrey says. “Or even allowing guests to check-in before they arrive using their own mobile phone or tablet. They could use their phone as a key, so they can arrive and go straight to their room if they like.”
Myers adds: “This allows us to focus customer service where it matters. We can still have staff who can help guests who want to deal with a person or who have a problem. Or they can make you a coffee while you check yourself in.”
Another client, ComXo, provides outsourced switchboard services to large professional firms. IT is paramount to delivering the exceptional client experience that ComXo is known for.
Andrew Try, Managing Director of ComXo explains:
“Providing outsourced switchboard to large companies is very complex. It requires a multitude of sophisticated technologies. Our goal is to achieve an integration that delivers a seamless service to the companies’ employees and clients alike. Our technologies enable us to deliver a highly personalized service, even to the largest businesses with over 30,000 staff, at a global level.”
Freeman Clarke Principal Steve Clarke is ComXo’s CTO. For several years, he has created a strategy and overseen the delivery of technology.
“ComXo delivers a bespoke service for each of their clients,” Clarke says. “ComXo’s team of Virtual Personal Assistants are experts on each of their customers. Off-the-shelf software is therefore not the right solution.”
Clarke has helped ComXo develop technologies that enable staff to work remotely; whether in their offices, at their clients’ offices, or at home. This helps to manage costs and enables employees to achieve a better work-life balance.
“We have also created an automated billing platform that reduces costs and provides a better service for clients,” Clarke continues. “For instance, when clients use ComXo’s Muiltivoice conference system, calls are tagged with a cost code which appears on the client’s bill. That enables professional services firms to bill accordingly. It’s particularly beneficial to firms of attorneys who form a large part of the ComXo’s client base.”
With their IT, ComXo is able to stand out from the competition and punch above their weight, working for large firms and major corporations. They stay focused on transformative projects that make a major difference to their clients.
Where You Can Start
The best way for ambitious mid-market businesses is to think about your real customers’ needs and to work backwards from there. Start with a blank sheet of paper and work out what your customers really value—which might not be the same as what you currently give them! Think of it from their perspective.
The good news is that in our experience mid-sized businesses often have a huge advantage over their larger competitors in this kind of transformation. There are fewer layers between the directors and the customers; directors can see and hear what customers are saying. And the company is small enough to make rapid decisions and changes.
The following questions can be a useful kickstart for a Board workshop on Digital Transformation:
- What is it that your market really needs?
- What do you customers really care about and value?
- If you started with a blank sheet of paper, how would you do things differently?
- What are the barriers to solving the above questions, and how might IT remove them?
ComXo and Sleeperz wow their customers by thinking about their needs and employing transformative technology. With the right planning, you can wow your customers as well!
Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations, helping our clients use IT to beat the competition. For an informal conversation, Contact Us, and we’ll be in touch.