The digital age has dramatically changed the relationship that companies have with their customers: armed with more information than ever before, customers are now in the driver’s seat. They decide who they’ll buy from, what they want to pay, and even what the product should be. It’s an enormous reversal from the days of “this is my product or service and here’s why and where you should buy it.”
While most businesses are aware of that shift, many are woefully unprepared to deal with it; everyone wants change, but no one wants to be individually changed. But if executives don’t rethink their businesses from the customer perspective and create a genuine and authentic relationship that creates value for all, then they may not be around in several years.
Digital is an existential threat. Change is never easy, but it’s even harder when it must happen quickly, particularly for large companies with entrenched systems, procedures, and cultures that are not built for rapid transformation. And yet, that’s exactly what’s needed today.
Product life cycles used to be measured in years; today they’re measured in hours. Uber, for instance, is constantly pushing out new application updates with the intention of making the customer experience more personalized; the idea is not just to meet user needs, but to anticipate them. This notion of urgency gets lost in businesses that still think in a linear fashion, and most business leaders within those organizations are terrified not just by the idea of change, but the pace of change that’s required.
So how can companies overcome the fear and the friction that impede agility? These steps will help you ignite a digital initiative that will ultimately enable you to scale quickly based on managing expectations and demonstrating results:
1. Start with existing resources.
Most companies already have a lot of data concerning their customers, but they’re doing very little with that information. The first impulse when undertaking any digital initiative may be to plunge headlong into new research and data collection. But much of what companies need to get started on may already exist at their fingertips. Take stock of what you have and drill down to analyze and dissect that information to mine the hidden gems of immediate value.
2. Know what you’re looking for.
Knowledge for its own sake is largely useless without context. The kind of information you need is based entirely upon your imperative. Are you looking for revenue growth, customer loyalty, margin improvement? Creating a clear statement that addresses what you’re trying to achieve will help you better identify the gaps in resources already at hand. Then, you can go about filling in those gaps.
3. Build a purposeful solution.
You can’t fundamentally change every part of your business at the same time. The risks are too great and you’re probably not ready to do that culturally anyway. So take a pragmatic and incremental view, focusing first on areas that will provide value quickly and convincingly. But make sure that you take a holistic approach: Your solution may address a singular problem, but it should take into account the broader vision of where you want to take the company. Think big, start small, but be prepared to scale quickly.
4. Prepare the organization for change.
Are you thinking of deploying a stealthy, elite “tiger team” or “digital labs” to engineer and deploy digital initiatives because you don’t want to alarm everyone in the organization? Forget about it. It’s essential to be fully transparent with your organization so that when you do unveil the results of your change initiative, you’ll have broad-based buy-in because people will actually understand what you’ve been doing and why.
5. Demonstrate results.
No matter how effectively you communicate, change is always disruptive and often painful. Even if people acknowledge that it’s absolutely necessary, they won’t be true believers unless they see tangible results. For some of Celerity’s clients, that has meant reducing the costs of labor associated with delivering patient care, streamlining and simplifying the mortgage lending process and building an entirely new platform to enable customer agility, and creating new customer experiences to drive loyalty and revenue. Once you have proof that your first big idea is actually having an impact, you’ll generate enthusiasm and a spirit of cooperation for your next one.
All companies, whether they’re B2C or B2B, must address the changes and challenges of the digital economy with a sense of urgency. We live in an age of almost perfect knowledge. The trick is knowing how to unearth and deploy that knowledge through strategic use of technology that helps you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to customer needs, while also creating value for your organization.
Watch Our Webinar on Pragmatic Digital Transformation
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This post was originally published on Forbes.com here as part of the Forbes Technology Council.