Why Digital Transformation And Technology Refreshes Are Not Going To Make The Difference


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Digital transformation surrounds us.

I’m in the process of commenting on all the new stuff that is happening in customer engagement. Just written about messaging. About to do the same for progress in voice assistants, emerging themes in next generation contact strategies, up-skilling service people in an AI enabled service ecosystem. The list goes on.

Virtually all of it is driven by the latest wave of technology. As a result, vendors are at the front end of the educational process. Whitepapers, webinars, workshops and POCs are the well trodden route to getting a foot in the door and expanding account value. I often participate in that extended workflow so I understand its impact.

This approach generally sits well with busy decision makers who yearn for an better work-life balance and find they can rationalise another POC as an example of being agile and keeping the pace going.

But there is a problem with all this which is similar to the challenge of trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle.

From experience, we all know it is so much easier to fit the pieces together with an image of the end result at hand. That picture on the front of the box really helps! It offers ongoing clues about where things fit. It provides ongoing context to decipher the imagery on each piece. The worst are the ones with just blue sky! This is why buying complex puzzles in just a zippy bag from the local charity shop end up being much harder challenges when we have no view of the final outcome.

What might this tell us about our approach to building complex things like digital transformation and next generation customer service?

We work in fragments. One jigsaw piece at a time. That’s how we get to go home at night by turning big ideas into bite sized chunks. However, we are flying blind without the guidance of a complete picture that tells us what we are trying to build, how it is meant to work and where the moving parts are to be placed.

People might know the milestones of the digital transformation project plan, but can they tell you what the end result looks like and how it needs to work? Have they even imagined it?

Even assuming there is a master architect instructing the many to build the pyramid, it is not the way things actually get built today. Local and iterative activity matters as much as centralised and strategic work. How these different initiatives stay in step or are even aware of each other’s efforts is a major issue. And these are not solved by project team updates.

As functional ecosystems are brought together under the remit of digital transformation, knowing how to join them is not about API compatibility or the fact that there is new functionality in the technology refresh to play with. There has to be purpose.

Why are you doing it?

Cost reduction is insufficient beyond those who live and die for business case ROI. The answer to why build this is based on how well you understand your customers’ agenda in a world of generational preferences. This is not to be found in typical VoC findings. Again these are fragments of the fuller picture.

In this sense, each vendor is a fragment. Even when they are selling a complete ecosystem, it is still just part of what you are building and most importantly what you intend to create with it. Don’t allow their vision of the future to act as yours. The value and purpose of a new technology investment is never realised in terms of new features and ROI returns. It comes from piecing together your own vision of customer engagement – based on what concerns customers and your unique response.

Table stakes are making it consistent, low effort and as close to real time as possible. Being really valued and memorable only occurs when you have imagined a new service experience that is then pieced together from the fragments offered by the vendors.

In short, develop a practical vision of the service experience before saying yes to all those POCs. With that in hand, you then know what you are looking for, how to piece the bits together and what to really scrutinise to ensure it works.

This ‘picture on the box’ needs to be envisioned in three time zones. As is, short term incremental and medium term service transformation. By envisioned I mean drawn up large for stakeholders, vendors and colleagues to tap into for context and alignment. Its a visual representation of how the moving parts slot together and deliver that unique service experience(s)

As complexity grows and outcomes need baking even faster, it works to invest time in being crystal clear what we are building as much as focussing on the detailed chore of joining the dots.

This is what I’ve noticed and been assisting with in my most recent client workshops.

Hope that observation has been work the read.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Hill-Wilson
Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement Strategist - Chair, Keynotes & Masterclasses. Brainfood is an advisory and education service. Advice in terms of co-designing practical engagement strategies that balance customer and business needs. These are orchestrated from a blend of live assistance, self service and proactive contact using whatever optimised mix of voice, text and video works best across realigned customer journeys.


  1. To help keep digital transformation from becoming re-engineering redux, agree with your perspectives that companies need to be mindful on the actual and perceived effect on experience value delivery, especially where employees and customers are concerned. I’ve observed that many companies are endeavoring to make digitization a cultural and operational ‘either’or’, rather than an ‘abd’, so that enhanced value can remain in focus.

  2. Hi Martin: thanks for this thought provoking post. Assuming the goal is making a difference, the difficulty lies in the facts that 1) there is no ‘end state’, because situations are continually evolving. Imagine working to complete a jigsaw puzzle when the design on the box lid changes by the hour (a great product idea you first heard here!). But that’s what we’re dealing with when integrating new technologies: conditions are the time of ‘completion’ are never the same as when the project commenced. What we solved (or thought we solved) gets replaced by new problems, and there are new forces and developments in the landscape that we didn’t anticipate when we undertook the effort to solve the proximate problem. 2) We get caught up in fixing the purpose of technology adoption as ‘transformation’ or ‘to conform to customer wants, needs, and desires.’ While these might be desirable outcomes, the reason for pioneering any innovation or resource is to enable enterprise strategy.

    This is a significant point, because I’ve seen so many executives get caught up on the same treadmill that spins ever faster. “We’re adopting AI to transform our digital presence.” – Why is that? “because that’s the way our customers are moving.” What’s missing from the discussion is the context or purpose of implementing change – whatever it may be. Matching customer need must always be considered, but a company must still be organized to create and deliver value, and that means devising a strategy, parsing resources and making bets and trade-offs. Whatever a company does must connect to its strategy.

  3. Michael, You make a very important point and one I think need greater amplification and debate. I’ve noticed for a while that ‘pure’ digital philosophy is intent on engineering away human participation under all conditions and to that extent the digital first rally cry assumes all human contact remains a point of failure. The human touch v self service/automation balance is yet to be founded on sound widely accepted behavioural principles.

    I was talking with a friend who has deep roots in local government whose current beef is that there is a new generation of digital leaders in place who are content to use low code connectors to simply put lipstick on the pig. In other words, deliver the generic vendor stated benefits of faster, lower costs instead of carrying forward the social mission of her generation which is to use digital transformation to tackle the root causes of social demand as far as local authorities are concerned.

    Threaded through this is the abuse of agile to become a quick ‘n dirty way to ratify a tick box approach to career development instead of appreciating that social issues in the community are highly interconnected and need solutions that recognise you gain little by pushing the problem somewhere else. In others a lack of imagination or motivation to dream first before building – something I alluded to in the post.

    So back to your point, we should challenge the idea that the purpose and value of digital adoption is now more than quicker and cheaper. The opportunity to change how services function and customer/colleague-organisations engage is a far greater prize. Maybe one that is recognized once the initial cashing in on short term benefit is exhausted.

  4. Andrew,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I’m with you on being clearly anchored in organisational strategy which of course is in response to market needs and opportunity. I’m less keen on your first point, an often quoted POV that it all changes so fast so what the point? The obvious answer to that is to move faster hence agile, plug n play tech etc.

    Of course the pace will keep increasing – AI infused business will ensure that. But we adapt. It’s different being a human in 1850 v human in 2050 as a case in point We are always making trade offs to move forward. Less serenity maybe. Certainly less attention span, These are today’s trades. So it is no good trying to nurture strategic focus in colleagues with complex, long winded narrative. That form of strategic planning is certainly dead. So we use pictures, images, icons to cut through the cognitive processing and create instant impact.

    How we convey strategy modifies to stay effective. But the human need to understand outcomes, purpose and context has not changed one iota. In fact it is required all the more as a stillpoint in all the noise these days.

    I do agree is what to focus on really matters. And when you look at what really matters to customers and what really matters to an organisation’s commercial success, I’d argue the fundamentals remain true. How they are spun into transient fashions in a socially connect world is the issue. So yes, be careful what you focus on. But you can still draw a picture on the box that resonates and endures with customers if you understand what matters to them.

  5. Martin,
    I feel you hit the nail on the proverbial head, when you speak about beginning with a practical vision of the service experience. A very sensible starting point. We speak to this along with clarity of the customer view and expectation in many of the journey map sessions I hold with clients. Good post. Thank you.

  6. Dennis,
    Thanks for the reinforcement. Clearly this needs to becomes a more common way of thinking. Wonder what would catch fire as a mass educational approach?

  7. As always, you are completely ‘on point’ Martin. The obsession with Digital is both justified AND comical. It is not the answer to ‘everything’ as you say. However, continuing advancements in digital technology can without question enable organisations to enable better customer AMD employee experiences.

    In my experience, the missing link in so many situations is the customer journey. Failure to define digital and tech strategy in alignment with the customer journey is a BIG mistake. Organisations need to start understanding how to MANAGE their customer journeys – aligning business process and technology to them. Whilst decisions are being made around technology and digital before understanding HOW technology and digital will better enable the journey, positive advancement for the benefit of the customer and employee will not be made.

  8. Ian,
    I think a lot of us recognise the issue of ships passing in the night. I wonder how many organisations have figured out the sequence and timing of events that results in the alignment you mention. That’s the tough nut to crack. Everyone’s busy, heads down. Be interested to hear a day/month in the life of to show how its done in practice.


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