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Transform, Fine Tune or Evolve - Change is Never Easy but Here are some Ideas that Help

Key Takeaways from the 2020 Chief Customer Officer Forum

There were some fascinating discussions at the 31st Australian Chief Customer Officer Forum meeting. Our theme was Transform, Fine Tune or Evolve which turned out to be very relevant to all the change that had occurred because of the pandemic. We were privileged to hear from industry leaders who had managed transformation and rapid change across business.

Our key notes Jodie Fox (former Shoes of Prey CEO) and Greg Hywood (former Fairfax CEO) had led transformation and transformational businesses. All the case studies featured not only moves to work from home but in many cases dramatic pivots to digital processes and a greater emphasis on customer experience.

A number of important messages emerged. We have not named the businesses because the meeting runs under the Chatham House rules. We have grouped some of the key messages under four themes:

  • Driving transformation

  • Disruptive technologies and change

  • Tactics and levers for change

  • The change impact of the COVID crisis

Driving Transformation

  • Cost cutting buys a company time but isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. It was great to hear a business leader recognise the tactical nature of cost cutting. This leader saw it as necessary while the business moved forward on other strategic change.

  • Put “the new wave” in charge of the transformation if you want to challenge an entrenched business model. In this example, the leaders of newer digital channels drove the change even though power and experience lay elsewhere in the old channels. If you put the “old business” in charge, they will undermine the new thinking.

  • Make someone outside each business unit responsible for cost cutting in that business unit if you want to maximise cost opportunities. In this business the idea was that leaders would be more aggressive in their view of costs in other parts of the business and be more likely to defend their own. A matrix model emerged as a way to drive cost reduction.

  • Strategic survival may be more important than cultural change. Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but sometimes strategic survival means putting cultural improvement and change on hold. In this example cultural change would have been ineffective as the organisation was distracted by the steps necessary to survive.

Disruptive Technologies

  • The move to virtual at-home work is an opportunity to restructure many processes and tools and forces a re-think of all aspects of people management from recruitment to measurement and management. Some companies have been forced to create virtual processes like recruitment, induction and training which has meant revisiting all the processes and re-thinking them.

  • A.I. tools exist now to automate many aspects of front-line people management from recruiting to quality analysis. These tools not only free up time, they also produce better outcomes by removing bias or selecting on better structured criteria. They free up staff to do value adding tasks like interviews and help remove flaws in the process like subjective application of recruiting criteria. They also live up to their billing by improving as they are fed more data to learn from. Tools such as automated quality change all the rules because they can look at 100% of work which sampling models never achieved.

  • Aligning digital and people-based channels is much harder than it looks. For example, adding a disruptive digital channel into a bricks and mortar store is unlikely

to be a natural fit. They will clash unless you re-think many of the ways the bricks and mortar run because the digital channel will challenge the process and measurement models. Omni-channel sounds attractive, but in this example, the people-based channel had no motivation to make a digital channel succeed. We’ve seen several examples where the people-based channels subverted the digital solutions.

  • Analytics can be invaluable through disruption. The organisations that had made investments in analytics to understand contact drivers across all channels found these tools invaluable during disruptive change like the pandemic. These tools gave them greater control of demand and helped them understand the impacts of external and internal change. The net result was a better customer experience as the organisations were able to better predict the size of the workforce and manage errors and problems faster.

Tactics and Levers for Change

  • Shock and awe tactics get leadership attention on customer issues. Executive time and attention is limited so stories with emotional content and impact from customers are more likely to get attention than volumes of data. Customer issues highlighted through their words and the impacts on them got more attention because of their emotional impact.

  • Outsourcing key customer operations requires tighter standards and practices than keeping them in house. If you outsource process, you have to invest a great deal in managing them to the way you want to work. This means having better definition of the way processes should work and a framework to manage to these standards.

  • Minimum Viable Product sometimes comes at a cost. Whilst it is possible to apply digital solutions and processes rapidly, the idea of minimum viable can come with other impacts. In this example, missing key usability steps to bring a COVID related solution to market in record time, meant that customers misinterpreted some fields and made errors in a key form. This would have been caught in a full development cycle by this organisations’ digital usability testing showing the trade-offs between the MVP concept and more traditional development methodology.

  • Invite more complaints rather than less if you want to drive improvements for

customers. It seems counter intuitive, but in order to drive down complaints in the long term you sometimes need to open the gates wider for complaints in the short term. The logic for this is that it helps demonstrate the full extent of problems and the value of possible solutions. This isn’t easy to do as many process and systems in large organisations will resist increasing complaint numbers. It’s worth doing as opening up the complaint funnel allows more feedback into the improvement system rather than suppressing this feedback.

  • Getting root causes actioned needs dedicated processes and resources in a demand management or complaint process. Those dealing with the issues are too busy fighting fires to identify root causes and create workable solutions. This organisation showed that you have to dedicate skilled resources to getting the hard yards of identifying the real causes and then justifying and creating solutions. This is true even when AI tools and data are flagging the problems. The AI tools are useful for problem spotting and quantifying but less helpful on solutions.

The Impact of COVID

  • Many organisations have become more trusting of customers through the crisis. By necessity, many organisations had to create processes that didn’t have the same controls as pre-pandemic processes. They have had to work more with customers in some areas because the volume of activity couldn’t be managed in other ways. For example, digital purchase increased greatly and therefore retailers had to create Amazon like refunds and return policies that used to have tighter controls. Ironically, these process changes have helped build greater customer loyalty and reduced contact.

  • A supportive and loyal culture can help when the going gets tough. This retail organisation reported that the increased volume of activity placed huge demand on staff. Most organisations would have wilted under 50-100% increased activity with no added staffing. In this organisation the long tenured workforce is so loyal to the business that they just put in the extra time and effort to get the business through the crisis.

  • Customers embraced digital and aren’t going back. Digital take up has taken off at such a pace that many businesses simply weren’t ready. Even though this often-impacted speed or response, order times and service levels, customers have not been deterred and are sticking with the digital channels even though the physical is available again. One organisation described that they were transparent with their customers on wait times and delays and this transparency led to customers praise and support.

Want to know more on these ideas or to join this Forum?

It was an interesting CCO Forum and typical of the types of ideas and range of topics that happen in this setting. We can’t share the depth of discussion from the thirty-five customer leaders across industries that make up this unique group as the discussions all occur under Chatham House rules. The group is always looking to expand the membership to bring new companies and ideas to the table. The CCO Forum is a not for profit run by Limebridge Australia for the membership. For more information email us at or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438652396.

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