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Digital Transformation 101 for CEOs

Everyone in business is talking about digital strategy, digital agility and digital transformation. They’re the new buzzwords that C-level execs are meant to be familiar with and ideally to be implementing. If you’re a CEO or C-level executive and you want to appreciate what digital transformation means and how it can revolutionize your company, then please read on.

Digital transformation is a logical concept and a natural progression to life in this always-connected, aka digital, world. The ubiquitous smartphone has transformed our lives and has become a pocket-sized personal management system—one that has thrust digital transformation into the limelight. The way we communicate, collaborate and even contract is evolving at a frantic pace.

Customer experience a key driver of digital transformation

Life as we know it has become more and more digital. There is no escaping it. This reality has driven a sweeping change in the expectations of customers—consumers, patients, employees, insureds, suppliers, vendors, followers and every other patron. A growing number of customers—from all walks of life—insist on engaging with organizations on their own terms. For organizations, this first presents the challenge to meet these evolving expectations, but it also represents an opportunity to implement major business improvements through the application of digital technology.

Altimeter Group says, “Technology is not an end-all solution. It’s an enabler for a larger digital transformation purpose and vision as it facilitates intuitive, frictionless, cross-channel and personalized customer engagement.”

The goal is to capture information at the point of origin, integrate it from all possible sources, facilitate end-to-end digital conversations and interactions—including the use of secure electronic signatures and automated workflows—store and retrieve both structured and unstructured content efficiently, and use analytics for full visibility. These are elements of a strategic approach to digital transformation that pave the way to enhancing the customer experience, streamlining operations and enabling the creation of radical new business models.

Using customer communications management to make a personal connection

According to Forrester Research, “As customer experience becomes a core aspect of competitive strategy, pressure builds to deliver a consistent and continuous customer experience for every channel and stage in the customer life cycle.”

Interactive personalized statements, statement presentment for mobile payments and mobile content creation are examples in support of omni-channel goals. As for print and digital communications, Gartner counsels that businesses must adapt to customer expectations and demands:

"Print communications will never disappear completely, nor should they. However, our discussions with thousands of Gartner clients over the past few years indicate that most organizations are putting more communications online. Moving from offline to digital channels is a key strategy for many organizations as they look to become truly digital businesses. Customers increasingly interact with organizations via a variety of channels and devices, and they expect content to be consistent across those channels. Increasingly, organizations want to create that content once and deliver it to any channel consistently."

By implementing a customer communications management (CCM) solution, an organization is able to engage customers throughout the entire business process for better control, quality and compliance. Reaching customers wherever they are, in their preferred way, is essential to becoming truly digital. Creating a stellar customer experience must encompass all the venues: online websites, mobile devices, email, SMS fax, phones, business branch locations and home settings. With an extensible CCM solution, you can manage the creation, assembly and delivery of documents into and out of key applications and processes.

Sign on the digital dotted line

For hundreds of years, commerce has relied on personal signatures to close deals, onboard customers and verify identity. Electronic signatures are becoming increasingly essential in conducting business and legal transactions in today’s digital world.

Modern e-signature applications use secure technology that safeguard against forgery and post-signature alteration. An electronic signature must be as reliable and tamper-proof as a pen-to-paper signature, able to verify the identity of each signer and validate each signer’s intention to comply with the stipulations of the signed document.

Businesses worldwide continue to embrace digital solutions that enhance the customer experience while eliminating cumbersome and costly manual systems. As a vital component of paperless processes, an e-signature solution should be a key consideration for any business that is truly committed to digital transformation.

While technology in and of itself is not the same as digital transformation, it is a key driver and enabler to that end. CCM and e-signatures make entry to digital transformation simple. When an organization is ready to dive a bit deeper, there are a number of other technologies to help achieve end-to-end digital transformation.

Many enterprises, particularly those operating in regulated industries, have long-established customer communications teams and well-defined processes in place to ensure delivery of critical communications. In order to protect against risk and to minimize cost, most have invested heavily in automated customer communications systems that are backed by rigorous governance and control processes.

In large organizations, however, the scale of the document inventory and the complexities of legacy infrastructure can mean that large teams are required to manage those communications. As a result, the typical customer communications function is rigid rather than agile, reactive instead of proactive and driven by risk reduction or compliance concerns rather than focused on innovation and business enablement.

While this may have worked in the past, it is not going to work in the future. Customer communications executives who do not evolve their customer communications function risk becoming marginalized and being perceived as barriers rather than enablers of business growth. There are two key business drivers at work that will necessitate a fundamental reassessment of how customer communications are managed: digital transformation and customer experience.

So, what is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is about applying digital technology to fundamentally change a company’s business model, operations and ways of engaging with its customers.

Driven by cloud technology, big data, the Internet of Things and other emerging trends, the number of companies engaged in digital transformation is rising dramatically. Digital transformation enables businesses to rethink their offerings and position themselves for growth in increasingly competitive markets.

Communications with all stakeholders plays a key role in this process. Digital transformation happens across the entire business, and the distinction between transactional and promotional communications is rapidly blurring and losing its significance. It is no surprise, therefore, that marketers, digital officers and customer experience officers are claiming increasing ownership of critical communications. Creating a customer experience that is consistent throughout the customer journey is an overriding objective for today’s enterprise marketer.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience is the perception that customers have of all their interactions with a brand. If a company delivers relevant, authentic, easy-to-understand messages using a recipient’s channel of choice, customers are much more likely to perceive that business as one that delivers an engaging customer experience.

Good customer experience involves engaging and simple-to-understand messaging, which is fully personalized in terms of channel, message, timing and location. It is also almost certain to be truly omni-channel, meaning that customers can start a conversation in one channel—responding to a printed communication, for example—and continue it seamlessly in another they prefer, online or by phone or email. To underline just how necessary ownership of well-developed, well-managed omni-channel communication is, Gartner addresses the challenge:

"Successful nurturing of customer relationships requires insightful, relevant and timely communications across multiple channels (such as the web, email, social media and SMS) and over a host of traditional and new devices. This diversity will increase, thanks to new in-home computing platforms like Amazon Echo and Google Nest. Customers expect organizations to know them and communications to be tailored to their specific context through whichever channel and on whichever device they are using at the time. Yet organizations typically take a fragmented approach to customer communications—separate groups (marketing, customer service, sales and so on) share responsibility for specific types of customer interaction, but no group manages the channels in a cohesive way." 

What digital transformation and customer experience mean for customer communications 

Digital transformation aims to place the customer front and center and to rethink how to best serve and interact with the customer by realigning business processes based on customer preference. Customer experience is an essential component of this that cannot be seen in isolation from the broader digital transformation program; enterprises with an outdated customer communications approach will very likely lose touch with their customer base and encourage churn.

This means that customer experience and digital transformation teams are going to develop various new propositions, including how to communicate with customers. Customer experience professionals require proactive support and certainly cannot afford to wait three months—a real market average—for a message template to be developed.

The risk is that to meet their goals, they will migrate customer communications to digital teams, creating redundancy in processes and adding extra cost in maintenance and development. Often missed, but equally important, are the implications from the risk, compliance, governance and organizational perspectives, areas where customer communications teams typically have strong expertise and can make a difference.

Digital transformation: Where to start

“Great! I’m in!” you say. “What’s next?” Let me first emphasize that digital transformation is becoming an all-or-nothing endeavor. Many organizations are generally more comfortable dipping a toe in the water and easing their way into a new technology concept such as digital transformation. My advice is, “Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone and move fast. If you don’t, you’ll very likely be left behind as your more nimble competitors out-transform you.” If you do choose to do nothing be prepared to explain to your shareholders why you didn't act on the compelling evidence that a digital transformation program is essential to business survival.

Digital transformation is not something you can research for 12 months and then scope a viable plan complete with tasks, costs, deliverables and deadlines. For CEO's and C-level executives, it is essential to prepare your business for the changes that are underway. You will almost certainly need external advice and ongoing guidance. The vast majority of companies simply do not have the knowledge, skills or expertise to even begin to develop the scope of a digital transformation project.

You and your team will need to approach the challenge with an agile mindset, and you will definitely want to move fast.

Greg Twemlow is the CEO of Cloud CCM company AIRDOCS Global - connect with Greg on LinkedIn

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