Digital transformation, the customer experience and marketing

TransformationAlthough digital transformation is not just about customer-facing functions, it’s clear that in many transformation projects, the customer experience is a key driver and catalyst.

In more IT-oriented projects, the same goes for the user experience and user adoption. Actual usage and adoption in fact is essential to make such projects succeed. And, ultimately, in business everything of course is about the customer.

Knowing the importance of the customer experience overall and the increasing focus on that experience in marketing, it’s not a surprise that we also have started talking about digital marketing transformation, the transformation of the connected marketing function and operations for a channel-agnostic customer journey with ever more digital touchpoints.

In fact, this specific area of digital transformation gets so much attention that very often digital transformation and digital marketing transformation are confused.

The restricted view on digital transformation in a digital marketing context is a pity because it exactly does what we want to avoid: creating siloed views, whereas digital transformation is about working across, through and beyond silos, while striving to reduce them when we shift – and reverse – the traditional inside-out approaches we have. Given the fact so many marketers look at it in such a restricted way makes one wonder if it’s really the CIO that doesn’t care enough about marketing as some emphasize. It seems the opposite is at least as true. While technology is not the first focal point in the classic people, processes and technology triangle, it does matter a lot by the way.

The state of digital transformation – the digital customer experience and digital customer journey view

The key role of the customer experience in digital transformation has led some analysts to focus on digital transformations regarding these experiences of a connected consumer, worker, etc. Some even looked at what I would call “a subset” of customer experience management: the digital customer experience.

Organizations undergoing digital transformation efforts in the context of the Altimeter definition - source Brian Solis Altimeter article
Organizations undergoing digital transformation efforts in the context of the Altimeter definition – source Brian Solis Altimeter article

For its report “The 2014 State of Digital Transformation” (see below), Altimeter Group, for instance, defined digital transformation as “The re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle” as you can read in this blog post by Brian Solis, who wrote the report.

This in no way means that Brian or Altimeter Group claim digital transformation is just about that as we increasingly read as mentioned earlier. The definition serves solely for the research Altimeter Group conducted and the specific segment the company looks at. Again, focusing on the customer experience of a “digital” customer and highlighting the importance of customer journey mapping. It’s too bad not everyone seems to have read that definition when talking about digital transformation in this context.

In that context of the mentioned definition, the research found that 88% of executives surveyed say going through a (customer experience related) digital transformation effort of some kind.

Brian Solis at one of i-SCOOP's events
Brian Solis at one of the events of i-SCOOP

However, only a quarter of respondents has mapped a digital customer journey map. A gap that shouldn’t surprise us, except that, prior to the survey, respondents were shown the definition mentioned earlier. But even then, the results don’t surprise us that much.

Digital marketing transformation: risks of data-driven marketing

Digital transformation is not something you do just like that and, let’s face it, most businesses simply miss the organization, “culture”, structures and, skills, customer-oriented view and degree of connectedness to have a single customer view, enabling end-to-end customer experience optimization, let alone end-to-end customer experience management possibilities, and let alone a view on the digital customer journey in an integrated way.

Furthermore, having a single customer view is far from a guarantee that digital transformation efforts to enhance the customer experience will occur. It’s the action that matters.

To improve customer experience organizations need to focus on customer journey mapping - source Altimeter Group
To improve customer experience organizations need to focus on customer journey mapping – source Altimeter Group

Even if all the processes, transformations, skills, mindset, changes and connections are in place, a single customer view doesn’t mean an improvement of the customer experience as such. The ability to do something and technological readiness are one thing, a culture and ability (or will) to act and effectively do something is another thing, that requires profound changes and a deep understanding of the customer journey.

It’s one of the risks we see happening with the increasing focus on data-driven marketing, that is often heralded (read: sold) in a customer experience improvement context. Although consumer insights and big, fast and actionable data, enable data-driven marketing and are a part of digital marketing transformations, as such they are meaningless.

When looking at the end-to-end customer experience, marketing for starters is just part of a very broad customer experience puzzle and when looking at data-driven marketing in practice we all too often see it’s promoted (mainly by vendors) as THE solution to enhance the customer experience. Well, it’s not.

The focus is still too much on tactics and not enough on the customer. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you ever were “trapped” into a seemingly perfect flow of data-driven marketing processes, even soliciting your feedback and offering recommendations, but feeling cold, anonymous and robotic as can be. That’s what data-driven marketing brings when it’s done by traditional marketers, focusing on technology and not on the far more important element of “people” (with processes being function of people’s needs and clear goals). Again, in the traditional people, process and technology triangle the essence is people and processes. While technology and data offer tremendous opportunities, the human element shouldn’t be overlooked.

Digital transformation, the single customer view and the promise of social CRM

Sameer Patel on digital transformation at CeBIT2014 - picture J-P De Clerck
Sameer Patel on digital transformation at CeBIT2014 – picture J-P De Clerck

Although the single customer view, let alone mapping the customer journey, is still a distant dream for many, those who realized it in practice often didn’t go through digital transformation efforts. What they did was digitize.

Let me quote SAP’s Sameer Patel from a presentation he gave in Germany in 2014, at the CeBIT tradeshow: “social CRM promised to break the walls between service, support and sales. But if we have digitally transformed the way we sell, then why is it that 65% of a sales rep’s time is still not spent selling” (and thus doing totally different things the rest of the time of which a chunk could have been removed if there was a true digital transformation, focusing on the outcomes of such a transformation, namely…selling more and/or better with the customer truly in mind, taking into account changing customer realities).

The other side, and in this customer experience context more important, aspect of social CRM and that promise of breaking down silos and offering single customer views, is service. I’m quoting Patel again: “we were supposed to have a single view of the customer, we were going to build communities where we would bring our customers and where we would collaborate together. But why do only 7% of consumers say that customer service experiences exceed expectations?”.

The reality of digital transformation - the customer service experience - presentation by Sameer Patel at CeBIT 2014
The reality of digital transformation – the customer service experience – presentation by Sameer Patel at CeBIT 2014

As we wrote in a piece on digital transformation and digitization, also referring to Patel’s keynote, in reality many organizations haven’t even started digitizing essential elements that are key for transformations in the customer experience perspective.

Contact centers are one area where major shifts should happen and are happening, given the essential role they have in this consumer-led world. However, contact centers in reality still have lots of digitization to do, both on the level of processes and data.

Needless to say more. Sure, digital marketing can be – and in most organizations should be – radically transformed. Yes, data-driven marketing can contribute to better customer experiences. No, marketing does not own the customer experience. And, indeed, we are far from digital transformation in marketing, as just one piece of the overall reality of the customer experience but also of digital transformations in distribution, service, marketing and sales. In that regard, again don’t overlook the contact center.

More about digital transformation and the customer experience.

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