Cultivating customer centricity is a key factor in driving engagement, yet as technology becomes a growing component of universal culture, harnessing its rapid changes is an ongoing challenge for business professionals. In 2016, user-centred design agency, Sift Digital, underwent a statutory demerger, streamlining a customer-focused offering and rebranding to Edo. Ahead of a CEO summit in early July and a whitepaper that aims to address customer centricity, managing director of Edo, Nick Torday, speaks to Hassan Butt about the changing landscape, and how embracing change is essential in achieving intuitive, simplistic and effective business strategy.
How is technology changing the way businesses engage with consumers?
Nick Torday: I think there’s three key points there, the first of which is the pace of change. If you think about the exponential growth of technological innovation, and how long for example the gap was between the two most disruptive forces in business – the telephone and emails – a lot of businesses have really struggled, because of their governance and behavioural and cultural attributes, to recognise and respond to that pace of change. By its very nature, technology has made everything move much faster, you either get on the train or you don’t.
The second point is that technology has driven us into a world of total customer centricity, where because we now have incredibly powerful devices in our pockets, the old ways of more blanket or broadly segmented communications and engagements with consumers are becoming deeply compromised. The ability for businesses to embed customer-centred thinking at the heart of its corporate strategy and behaviours, is critical. Our view as a business is that investing into marketing technology and the latest software is merely the vehicle through which you can potentially engage with people.
Finally, the most important thing is your ability for everyone in the business to have a passion and instinct for the changing needs of the consumer, even if their role doesn’t involve frequent engagement with customers.
How can organisations work differently with employees and supply chains to transform the customer experience?
NT: I think there’s several components to that. One of the hardest nuts to crack, is cultural. The example of Kodak is an interesting one. Kodak, if you like, loved themselves to death. They were so committed to the incredibly strong and resonant core business model they’d built up over the years, which they were very passionate about, that they made a lot of wrongheaded decisions around digital and technology specifically. Culturally, they were too in love with their own sense of history and entitlement.
By contrast, the example of HMV was also interesting – they had a great company culture, with high levels of staff retention. Yet the lack of fresh talent that could help them adjust and react to the disruptive forces within the industry was part of its breakdown. There are deep-rooted cultural behaviours that influence how a company can respond to change. Creating a customer-centred culture involves listening to staff and better understanding their roles. The approach we take at Edo is that we apply the same ethnographic research techniques that we do with customers to find out what the customer experience is, internally to the employees. We look at the internal customer-stakeholder experience and try and match the two together.
Where do you see the direction for organisations going when it comes to harnessing technology as a central component of business?
NT: We’re fully in amongst it, but some people are more alive to it than others. A lot of it comes down to leadership. Many people are still compartmentalising business, but more progressive businesses aren’t. If technology isn’t central to every aspect of our work, then we’re not going to survive. Much of this starts in the boardroom, in the decision-making process and percolates down tactically. The example of Charlie Redmayne, CEO of HarperCollins, harnessing technology to bring in customer analytics, digital and data-driven technology to drive its business strategy forward, is materialised in Kindles and online reading data that is fed back to help better understand how to sell a product.
How does Edo seek to leverage the changing digital landscape to better prepare businesses to compete?
NT: It really is about unpicking the problem that you’re trying to solve. We work with lots of NFPs, as well as lots of government bodies and corporates. For us, what drives us as a business is that we want to make people’s live better. Whether that’s what we’re doing with dementia and big data to track patterns across the UK, or helping one of our energy clients develop switching products to help create easier tariff switching etc.
Ultimately, what we’re saying is that the common denominator is that people have needs. Those needs are wide-ranging, such as buying a train ticket, finding out whether your dad has cancer, or working out when the local council does the bin collection. Most importantly, those needs must be met, and if they can be achieved in the most intuitive, simple and compelling way, they’ll keep coming back to you to fulfil those needs – if that’s what you want them to do. Whatever it is, building better relationships to develop a customer-centred business is our main goal.
What are your predictions for the further developments of digital landscape in the next three years, and how might this affect businesses?
NT: If things carry on the way they are, we might not be around in the next three years! The things that I’ve highlighted however are, firstly, AI (artificial intelligence) – it’s still relatively nascent and reserved for the big players like Google and Tesla, but when it comes into the workplace in a meaningful way it’s going to have a massive impact on business. I think a lot of that is around intelligent algorithms, automation and self-service. What does that mean in terms of the shape and nature of your workforce? In the same way that the industrial revolution caused a huge disruption to the shape and context and makeup of the workforce, AI is going to have a similar effect.
The other point is regarding predictive data; using huge data sets to predict outcomes, patterns and behaviours. You only need to look at the impact of Cambridge Analytica and the US elections [using data to hone in on swing state voters] as a key example. The thing for businesses to think about however is that there’s an ethical dimension, and there are already regulatory considerations to consider.
The third point is about distributed working, the idea that technology now means that you don’t all have to be in an office together. The concept of being location agnostic, and moving away from a centralised corporate structure, and technology enabling that, is going to be a big thing for businesses to get their head around.
First published by Communicate Magazine 29/06/2017