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Putting the customer journey at the heart of digital transformation

Business and Enterprise

Posted on January 3, 2018

3 min read

In a time when digital upstarts are turning industries on their heads, it’s tempting to immediately jump on the bandwagon and adopt the hot technologies of the day in a quest to compete.

While it makes sense for companies to be aware of new technologies, they are better served if they patiently and prudently pick their battles. Kneejerk reactions driven by fear and panic can harm an enterprise financially and jeopardise its long-term viability. Such companies lose focus by trying too hard not to lose, but that’s a far cry from trying to win.

No doubt technology can open new doors to innovation, but it should ideally serve as support for overarching business strategies. It is more essential that firms focus on two markers – “design thinking” and “design-to-zero,” which when overlapped with technology, constitute actual digital transformation.

Design thinking across multiple customer touchpoints

When Uber disrupted the taxi industry, it did so because it demonstrated empathy. The then startup understood what was truly frustrating to taxi riders: the unpredictable waiting time when hailing a cab, having to pay in cash and no satisfactory way to lodge complaints. Uber’s answer? A mobile app for quick, convenient and transparent booking of rides, cashless payment, and an in-app feedback mechanism.

Uber’s radical business model is based on multiple technologies such as geolocation, mobile, and payment integration. However, the core service that Uber provides is born out of a keen awareness of customer problems, needs and expectations – in other words, design thinking.

Design thinking in this sense has very little to do with aesthetics and more to do with customer-centric problem-solving. Pivoting to design thinking requires a rigorous examination of your company’s existing systems, products and services from the end-user’s perspective. When customer touchpoints and bottlenecks have been identified, appropriate digital solutions can naturally come to the fore. This approach not only allows for more strategic investments, but also promises to deliver true customer value for a one-two punch in a competitive edge.

Design-to-zero for a frictionless customer journey

Customer expectations have evolved in step with the proliferation of such mobile, on-demand, to-the-doorstep services – and companies must adapt. Seamless, ‘frictionless’ customer service journeys are now the gold standard, and businesses are targeting the human touch as a critical source of inefficiencies and friction. The question companies face now is: How can we redesign a business process so that it minimises human touch?

It bears mentioning that the primary objective of design-to-zero is not to eliminate human touch at every stage of the customer journey. For a company like Airbnb for example, it is not hard to see the appeal of having hosts greet guests. Such ‘friction’ serves the purpose of giving the entire service a personalised touch. Instead, design-to-zero involves a strategic, targeted deployment of digital technologies to enhance the customer experience from the moment they engage with your brand.

A good first step would be to identify bottlenecks in the customer journey. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think: what are the processes you would much rather have a digital option to turn to? Is it a banking transaction you don’t want to have to travel down to the branch to complete? Or a check-in at the airport you don’t want to queue up for? Next, what are some innovative, digitally-led solutions to streamline these processes? Adopting a customer-focused mindset will quickly unearth pain points that may be best resolved by digital technologies.

The path to digital transformation

The road to digital transformation is understandably daunting. Apart from extensive research into customer needs, companies must consider wide-ranging organisational change. Here are three practical steps for businesses as they embark on digital transformation.

  1. Start by taking small steps

To overcome the inertia to digitally transform, businesses can start small and progress from there. Take a small back-office process or capability in the business to test how efficiency or productivity can be improved there, or how that part of the business could be made more agile.

From there, you can extend testing to other parts of the business. Little pilots like that are manageable and allow organisations to learn from each pilot experience and apply those learnings to subsequent projects.

  1. Set up cross-functional teams

When it comes down to who should execute these small projects and pilot tests, we recommend project teams be business, not IT-led. If they are IT-led, the conversation tends to become very tech-centric. With business-led, cross-functional teams, the principles of design thinking can be applied to the process.

At Telstra, for example, we’ve created a new technical consulting role within our Telstra Enterprise team, called the “customer chief technologist,” aimed at enhancing customer engagement. This customer chief technologist works with senior account leads to drive and influence strategy, ensuring that the target outcome of delivering valuable customer engagement is factored in, right from the onset.


  1. Supplement with external subject matter experts

Many hands make light work. Businesses will benefit greatly by bringing in advice and guidance from external consultants because it allows them to benchmark, replicate what others have done as best practice, and course-correct from the onset.

This works for organisations who don’t have the budget for dedicated, full-time internal resources. FOX Sports and City of Joondalup in Western Australia are some examples of enterprises who have partnered with Telstra to enable the execution of business transformation strategies, support growth initiatives and create stronger customer engagement.

The fear of falling behind in the digital transformation curve is real, but businesses can take heart: with the right mindset, strategy and technology curation partner – and not kneejerk reactions, they can successfully navigate uncertainties in the marketplace, drive change and set themselves up to embrace bigger business opportunities.