Transforming to a customer-led business: a potential model

Is there a recipe for transformation? Can a business genuinely transform itself to be customer-led? How do you get started? I attended a breakfast discussion on the topic of transformation with a group of fellow Comotion associates recently and whilst these questions are straightforward, some of the answers challenge accepted wisdom on strategy and transformation.

The roadmap

As consultants we are often in the business of establishing some form of map to lead clients through the stages of change from initial idea through to delivery. Denise McQuaid, Comotion’s Director of Innovation, walked through the five stages that they have identified in partnership with their key clients:

  1. Set-up – arguably the most important part to get right, this stage establishes the degree of alignment between senior leaders about how far and how fast the organisation is willing to go in its journey towards being customer-driven. Some views of ‘what good looks like’ can help at this stage
  2. Fix the basics – getting the quick wins in (the easier changes) to demonstrate the benefits and, moreover, start to engage employees in the journey
  3. Deliver on the promise – this is the ‘heavy lifting’ phase where the serious changes get introduced
  4. Differentiate – pick on 2-3 things that will differentiate you from the competition
  5. Delight – referred to as ‘saving the sexy stuff until later’ this is the phase where the organisation can generate real customer – and employee – advocacy.

Is there a green field?

So is this all straightforward? Absolutely not, as the real world has a nasty habit of interfering with carefully laid-out plans. In an enterprise-wide transformation, the sequential stages laid out above won’t happen in exactly that way, with different areas moving at different speeds. Pilots and proof of concept implementations are also critical so that the organisation can learn as changes are implemented and early benefits realised.

As we all know there is rarely, if ever, a green field in which to build such a programme and one of the key success factors is to be able to stop projects that aren’t delivering to make space for the customer transformation, with senior executive’s vanity projects first in the firing line. The upside of a focus on customer experience – and this is the key point in my view – is that it makes other projects more successful as well. And, of course, how you define success is takes us back to establishing the right metrics and aligning around these at the outset.

The death of strategy?

The important thing about this approach is that it’s focused on implementation: the days of a customer strategy would appear to be numbered – at least the traditional strategy in the form of a 100-page report that sits on a shelf gathering dust. Better by far to get employees engaged in solving problems to improve customer experience – and this can typically throw up inefficiencies and work-arounds in back office processes that, if fixed, can bring efficiency savings.

And if the top-down, strategy-led approach traditionally involved marketing in shaping the experience from a brand perspective, the transformation-led approach challenges this by enlisting HR more explicitly as an enabler for change and providing appropriate support to customer-facing staff.

How big and how fast?

Some of the examples cited take a long time to implement with one journey estimated at around 7 years from start to finish, but this can vary, as can the size of organisation to whom it applies. Large-scale transformations imply a large-scale enterprise to transform but the approach is equally applicable at a much smaller scale, with Comotion working with one client very firmly in the SME space and applying the principles to their own niche market.

Contrarian wisdom?

The customer-led transformation model overturns some accepted wisdom about the customer-centric journeys, notably:

  • Don’t wait for the strategy report to arrive
  • Get alignment and metrics in place early
  • Work with HR to enable employees to get involved with change
  • Don’t try to delight the customer until you’ve fixed the basics
  • Implement – via pilots – as soon as possible to prove the business case
  • Keep in mind that customer-led projects will help other initiatives to succeed.

None of this promises to make things easy, but with a recent report from Dimension Data stating that 71% of organizations cite customer experience as their top strategic performance measure but only 13% of them rate themselves a 9 or a 10 (out of 10) when it comes to delivery, there should be plenty of opportunity to use a model that provides a focus on success.

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