Feeling overwhelmed by the pace of change, or frustrated by your organization’s inability to keep up with the competition as your customers continue to demand more digital capabilities from you? 

If so, you’re not alone. But despair not: this article provides a three-step path to a successful digital transformation.

But before we get prescriptive, let’s get some perspective.

Deconstruct ‘Digital’

I’m going to blaspheme. Die-hard digiphiles should skip down to the next subhead.

Digital isn’t everything, folks. 

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that, for heavily-regulated industries like healthcare and financial services, something like 70 percent of all customer communications are still printed and mailed. Surveys have reported that 69 percent of the coveted 18-24 year-old demographic “prefer to read print and paper communications, rather than reading off a screen.” 

Digital may rule, but analog isn’t dead … yet. So if you feel stuck in your digital transformation, it may just be that your customers aren’t demanding digital yet.

Of course, today, just about every piece of information starts in a digital format. Workers spend the majority of their workday on a computer, laptop, tablet or mobile device. And in terms of media consumption, digital channels dominate. So, digital is very important, but not necessarily to all of your customers or for every communication.

My point? You need to understand, for each customer segment and stage of the customer lifecycle, how your customers want to interact with you. We’ll get to how to do that in a bit.

Translate ‘Transformation’

And another thing: Where is it written that a company must go through a gut-wrenching purge of people, processes and technologies in order to effect change? Nowhere. Even Merriam-Webster concedes that transformation can be a process.

If you want your digital transformation to fail, take on as much change as possible at one time. If you want your transformation to succeed, take a measured approach. Look for quick wins and make incremental changes.

Plan Your Digital Transformation

My day job includes a healthy portion of analyst relations; I regularly engage emissaries from Forrester, Gartner, IDC, InfoTrends, Celent and similar organizations. These analysts report that the majority of inquiries they receive are from companies struggling with developing a customer experience strategy. 

As the adage goes, fail to plan and you plan to fail, so developing a strategy should be the first step in any digital transformation effort.

In the first segment of Forrester’s digital experience playbook, analyst Ted Schadler recommends that your digital experience transformation strategy start with a customer journey map. That’s good advice.

Step 1: Map the Customer Journey

Much has already been written on customer journey mapping. I’d like to focus on what I’ll call the “interaction intersection.” This is where a customer-facing touchpoint meets the underlying technologies that provide data, content and context to the customer.

You already know that customers interact with your touchpoints. You may have even started a mapping exercise to understand why customers are interacting with you (hint: to achieve their goals, not yours) and the frequency that each touchpoint is used. 

But have you mapped the back-end — all of your systems of record and insight — involved in each of those interactions? If you have, then you’ve no doubt uncovered gaps. These gaps usually occur when a system “owned” by one of your departments has to share data or content with a system “owned” by a different part of your organization. But how do you prioritize plugging these gaps? Again, the answer is to focus on the customer.

Step 2: Prioritize Tactics

Schadler recommends prioritizing improvements based on a two-factor ranking system: the value of each customer interaction to your business (i.e., revenue or expense) and the benefit of the interaction to the customer. 

The former should be relatively easy for you to quantify and therefore rank. The latter comes down to how well you understand what your customer is trying to achieve through the interaction and making that goal easy to accomplish so the customer has a positive emotional reaction to the interaction.

Many tools are available to help you understand customer motivations. You could ask them, using a voice of customer solution or service. You could observe them, using software to record and then review each interaction. 

The one thing you should not do is assume.

Once you have identified and quantified the customer benefit and business value of each interaction, plot them on a simple four-square grid with lower-value interactions in the lower-left quadrant and highest-value interactions in the upper-right quadrant. Clearly, you want to focus on the highest-value interactions. Prioritize these based on the time and resources required to address them, and you’ll have your short-terms wins and longer-term projects staring back at you.

Step 3: Think and Act Holistically

The Tempkin Group, a consulting firm focused on customer experience and digital transformation, recently proposed that digital customer experience (CX) maturity has four stages:

  • Centrally-driven
  • Cross-functional participation
  • Distributed expertise
  • Federated CX

Based on personal observation and countless interactions with analysts, I would submit that the majority of organizations are stuck in the first phase. 

When customer experience is centrally-driven (i.e., a single department or senior executive tries to drive customer experience from within their own organizational silo), it’s nearly impossible for an organization to plug the gaps in their customer experience. The org structure is aligned against success. Budgets and bodies are not deployed effectively enough to address CX more than superficially.

By contrast, when there is cross-functional participation, an organization can at least get all of the right stakeholders in the room to agree on an enterprise-wide strategy for digital transformation. And when each department has employees whose jobs are focused on improving customer experience — the distributed expertise phase — an enterprise can expect that each department will make incremental improvements to customer experience.

However, only when customer experience is federated across an organization can that organization truly focus on and coordinate the underlying capabilities (i.e., the processes and back-office systems) and achieve a fully-integrated customer experience platform, plugging the gaps for good.

It’s a Process and a Platform

Digital transformation is a process, not a project. It often takes years of effort to achieve the organizational maturity and develop the integrated platform required to achieve a seamless — and profitable — customer experience. 

While the steps above are conceptually simple, they are not easy to actualize. Do not be deterred, though. Research has proven that the destination is worth the journey. Just take it one step at a time.