A digital ecosystem is built on three foundations

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The ecosystem has a single, central database (1) in which all relevant information is stored. On the basis of this data, the customer is provided in real-time with personalized information (2). In a perfect digital customer relationship, the company knows what the customer wants before the customer himself. In other words, the customer relationship becomes faster than real-time. Finally, a good ecosystem works with a partner model (3). As a company, you need to provide the ultimate customer experience. By collaborating with others and sharing knowledge openly, you will increase your response speed and increase the number of options for the customer.

The final arbiter of a digital ecosystem is the feeling it gives to the customer. If the customer experiences an extreme feeling of customer-orientation thanks to a perfect interplay of different contact moments, the ecosystem has fulfilled its purpose. Because this is how an ecosystem works: it places the customer in a central position and allows various channels to work around him in perfect integration.



Data centralisation

The many touchpoints (apps, sites, social media, telephone, retail outlets, etc.) available to customers all generate data. The existence of a single central database to collate and coordinate this data is essential for the correct functioning of the ecosystem. Apple works with just one Apple ID per customer. In this way, they centralise all the data flowing between their different appliances and channels. All Apple appliances are linked to each other via the Apple ID. The iCloud is also linked to the ID. All relevant customer data is added to this ID in the central database. If a customer loses his iPad, they have the luxury of knowing that within five minutes of purchasing a new appliance all their personal data can be restored. Similarly, iTunes music is available on all the appliances of the same family.

In his new book 'The Network Always Wins', Peter Hinssen writes about the transformation of data. Data is traditionally stored in a static database. This is the reason why CRM (customer relationship management) has become an expensive disappointment in so many companies. By definition, customer data is never static. In other words, customer details in a static database are almost immediately out of date. Keeping this data up-to-date in a static database is a near impossibility. Hinssen has described it accurately: "Data used to be treated like bottles filled with water. Companies were skilled at storing large numbers of these bottles. However, data needs to be treated like the flowing water of a river. Data is continually in motion. The trick for today's companies is to control this flow of data."

Faster than real time

Thanks to the centralization of data, it is possible to personalize more or less anything for the customer in real time. Each customer has a different background and the need for information differs from person to person. Websites and apps can adjust themselves on the basis of the available customer data to increase the relevance of the information they provide. In the past, it was acceptable for customers to wait one or two days for personalized information. This is no longer the case. The information must be provided immediately.

I recently visited Disneyworld to test out the MyMagic+ system for myself. After making my reservation on the Disneyworld website, I received an e-mail from the hotel. It was not an automatically generated mail. It was a personalized message. It began: "Dear Steven, thank you for your reservation. We see that you are travelling with your children. The following restaurants are perhaps suitable to give your children an unforgettable day out." When I reacted positively to their suggestions, within a further ten minutes I received another confirmatory mail. When I looked at my Disney Experience app just a minute later, my reservations were already recorded in the system. These real-time updates of information across different channels of communication generate a feeling of confidence and trust.



The rainfall radar is a great app. It is a free tool that allows you to view satellite images in real-time, so that you can follow the movement of zones of rain. My 65-year-old father is an avid user. "There is only one down side," he told me recently." You can only follow the evolution of the rain zones for two following hours." Today's consumers require faster than real-time information. They want to have the correct information made available to them in advance. A good ecosystem is able to provide this information. Knowing what the customer wants before the customer knows it himself is the challenge. But it is a delicate process. It must match the actual wishes of the customer.

Partner model

In a digital ecosystem the customer stands central. This not only requires a transformation from a one-channel organization to a customer-oriented organization, but also demands a large degree of openness towards other partners. Apple does not build all the apps available in its app store. The company opens up its system, so that others can contribute their ideas. This is win-win-win: it benefits Apple, the consumers and the other participating partners. This type of openness is currently developing in a number of different sectors. The automobile sector, previously known as a closed sector, is one such example. The cars of the future will not be made exclusively by the car manufacturers. If you regard a car as a kind of giant smartphone, the number of possibilities for developing applications is considerable. Like Apple, General Motors has opened its network, so that exterior designers can work on new apps for GM cars. The level of openness is far-reaching and includes details about the engine and technological refinements of the vehicle.

Walgreens, an American chain selling health products, is another major company to make its customer data available to its partners. A good example is its link with QuickPrints. This allows customers to print out their smartphone photographs in Walgreens stores. This is yet another instance of win-win-win. Walgreens gets more visitors to its retail outlets. The app designers see their app increase in value. But the biggest winner is the consumer, who benefits from a wider offering and a better service than was previously the case.

Digitalization is central to customer experience



To successfully make the digital transformation, there is a need for a central backbone around which everything can be built. These three foundations can help to shape the most appropriate strategy.

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