The Key Ingredient for Digital Success? Your People

people laughing while working

Brooke Cagle

Digital initiatives leverage the ever-expanding power of technology and data to create more compelling, engaging, human-centered experiences for customers. When done well, these efforts can drive breakthrough positive impact for customers and businesses alike. For example, in banking, we’ve seen digital experiences drive improvements of two times monthly revenue, double-digit increases in transaction frequency, and 50% improvements in NPS in less than a year.

But results like this won’t happen unless your employees are prepared and equipped to make it so. In our experience, the top reasons for digital failure often center around people, process and governance — lack of agility, organizational silos, fear of failure, too high a burden of proof, and most importantly, thinking of digital efforts as projects rather than as an ongoing journey around a new way of doing business.

In fact, the potential for poor outcomes remains quite high. Various studies find that upwards of 70% of digital initiatives fall short of delivering on expectations. To avoid these pitfalls, businesses must purposely evolve how their employees work on two dimensions:

  • Evolving to a modern operating model and culture centered around a product mindset and guided by desired customer outcomes.
  • Understanding that “digital” encompasses interactions with both screens and humans, and that delivering a seamless experience depends on both.

The following briefly explores both dimensions and offers ideas for successfully executing them.

Evolve to a Modern Operating Model and Culture

At its core, moving to a product mindset must be guided by continuously seeking to create more value for customers — a significant shift for many non-digitally native businesses that often focus on product. Accomplishing this requires a high degree of customer empathy and deep understanding of the desired outcomes, and then creating the conditions to orient all organizational actions toward delighting those customers.

Additionally, a modern operating model requires agility, leveraging test-and-learn processes and embedding the notion of experimentation within the organization. These shifts can be difficult to instill into cultures used to working in established ways. The path to success is to start small, build muscle memory and habits among a small group of employees, and then expand from there. If you focus on “betting the garden, not the farm,” the habits honed in the garden will begin to shape what you’ll become.

Further, ensure there is a focus on clearly demonstrating the incremental value being created through digital experiences. This requires careful upfront forecasting of customer and business value, and then systematically measuring the realization of that value as a program is implemented in the market. Nothing builds internal confidence and creates organizational inertia like showing the tangible impact a new effort has created.

Perhaps most importantly, begin to instill an adaptive growth mindset — give license to question long-held beliefs, allow employees the freedom to innovate and take risks, and encourage an openness to change. This won’t happen overnight, but with ongoing support from leadership and evidence from teams that new digital efforts are driving real impact, your organization will quickly start to see the benefits of this way of thinking.

Ultimately, these operating and cultural changes must become second nature, or you’ll risk sliding back into old behaviors and unwinding hard won gains.

Related Article: Customer-Centric? Employee-Centric? How About a People-Centric Culture

Integrate Digital and Physical Experiences — Seamlessly

Just as important as your operating model and culture is enabling those employees who interact with customers to become a seamless part of the overall customer experience. Customers today want to be able to interact with your organization how, when, and where they desire — seamlessly and easily. That means a customer may prefer to use a feature on a mobile app to accomplish a task, but then want to speak to someone live with a question or to get reassurance. The key is ensuring that the customer’s experience for both digital and live interactions are equally excellent — simple, friendly, transparent, consistent and personal.

With that in mind, think about using the same human-centered design principles that guide digital experiences, and applying them to live customer experiences as well. Customers’ needs, desires and pain points exist whether they’re using a screen or speaking with an employee. One useful technique is helping your customer-facing employees — whether in sales, customer service or reservations — understand what an excellent experience looks and feels like. By exposing them to the same insights used to guide digital experiences and crafting behavior guidelines accordingly, you can train your employees to become a powerful part of the experience ecosystem.

Employee effectiveness can be further augmented by leveraging customer data to inform employees about a customer’s persona, relative value, their needs and desires, and what steps a customer has already taken via digital channels. Nothing is worse than spending time on a task in a digital channel, then calling an employee who has no idea what you’ve just done online. Customer-facing employees need to have full visibility into the customer and the interactions they have had with your brand, so they can pick up where the customer left off, and offer them something that clearly shows they know them.

A great example of this is Disney, which has implemented many digital conveniences, such as RFID-powered MagicBands that serve as digital room keys, provide park and ride access and allow customers to easily make payments. But by also using customer location and other data to inform employees, it can enable Mickey to surprise a child with a meet-and-greet to wish her a happy 5th birthday. They deliver an exceptional experience no matter how a customer chooses to interact with them.

These efforts will not only strengthen customer engagement but can also dramatically enhance employee engagement. Various studies, such as one by Glassdoor, have found a direct correlation between employee engagement and the ability to better satisfy customers. Nothing is better than a customer telling you how great their experience is with your brand, how truly helpful you have been, or how delighted they were about some small gesture you surprised them with. If someone feels they can make a real difference in delighting their customers, it will pay off in happier, more productive employees who are more likely to stay with you.

Related Article: Converge Customer Experience and Digital to Thrive in 2021

Start Small, Then Build on Your Successes

A key for all of these efforts is to start small, show success, and allow your employees to become comfortable with a new way of working and thinking. Then use that experience to build momentum for another effort…and then another. And as you do so, apply the same customer-led insights and delightful experiences to both digital and live interactions. Very quickly, your organization will be on its way toward having the internal pieces in place to better integrate your digital and employee efforts.

Nick Hahn is a Director in West Monroe Partners’ Digital practice, working with clients nationwide to realize digital business transformation. He has more than 30 years of experience as a senior-level strategist, line manager and business leader for global organizations.

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