There was a huge shift after World War Two in automation and manufacturing and I think we're going to see the sort of modern version of that.
That’s the view of Jonathan Loretto, Global Head of Trustworthy Computing, Digital Security & Digital IT Controls at financial services giant HSBC as he contemplates economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and how the way businesses will interact and engage with customers can change in the post-pandemic world:
Human beings have basically evolved to a point where we can create better tools, better systems, better capabilities as a planet, but we still struggle with some of the some of the basics. There's a lot of buzzwords and a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding. We use the word 'digital', we use the words 'transformation' and 'change' a lot, but I think what we're ultimately trying to achieve at the board and executive level is a modern business strategy for a modern customer and market challenge, with modern supporting technologies and capabilities.
This modernity will come in a different form to what has gone before, he suggests, and to his lexicon of key words might be added ‘speed’ and ‘agility’:
In the 90s, we could write a strategy and it would it would last for two or three years. In the early 2000s, the strategy would probably last about 12 months if we were lucky. At the moment the markets are changing rapidly. If I put a strategy together in October of last year, it would not have included COVID-19 and isolation. It would not have included bringing whole call centers out of buildings and moving them home. That would have been seen as almost impossible to do.
But companies in retail, in financial services, insurance and credit are all still running their operations. OK, they may be slightly slower…but they work. So, we as business leaders, as boardroom executives, need to look hard at our business. There are no sacred cows. It's too often too easy say, 'No, I don't think we can do that. It's impossible!’ or 'Give me a strategy, go and look at things, go and analyse it in 500 different ways'. Eventually you move forward, but you lose market edge, you lose competitive edge, you lose market share and you lose the customer interest.
As we come out of COVID-19 and the isolation around the world, there's a change window, an opportunity to maintain or make other great changes in our businesses and our supply chains to help engage [customers] or to better services overall and understand what is going on to greater depth and degree.
Getting it right
In his current leadership role in digital transformation in the financial services sector, the former Global Partner at IBM can see first hand how things have changed from a time when months or years were spent on writing long reports and creating presentations:
We’re now living. We're now making decisions that impact our employees and our customers in a short period of time. Things that last year would have seemed almost impossible, we're doing very easily. Now, we are creating experiences with our customers without physically touching them. We're creating virtual experiences on phones, on desktops, and services that try to please and improve the value of our services as a company. We're trying our best to learn from them, because we don't get it right first time. But last year, not getting it right first time with your customer was scary; today, we have to do it because we got no other choice. The great thing is for us is to build on that, capitalise on that and help carry it forward post the COVID-19 period.
That uncertain time ahead also demands that organizations think about customers in a more complex way, says Loretto, being conscious that individuals act differently when alone compared to when in small groups or with friends or again when in a large group. That means having flexible thinking about human-centered experiences, he advises, to tackle the customer challenge that businesses have wrestled with for decades - how to interest them, excite them and engage them:
Human beings change differently. They adapt differently. They can be stressed, they can be happy. They can have had a great week at work or a bad week of work. They can be with friends, who then influence them. So we need to truly understand the various modes of operation of our customers, but also we need to be truthful to ourselves. There's no point in saying, 'I really want to understand my customer. I really don't understand what they want to do. Buy more stuff!'.
We can't just segment people or put them into good old marketing deciles - 1,2,3,4,5 and I really want to have 5. It's different. People want different things. They want personalization. They want customization. They want things that make them feel special. And when we give them those things, they lap them up, they engage wholeheartedly and they drive forward. When we try and pull the wool over their eyes, not surprisingly they go on social media and they basically provide us with feedback - sometimes positives, other times not.
It’s also important to think about your own employees and other partners in all this, he adds:
Eventually, at some point, a customer will meet the employee, and we have to look at them and their experiences equally as well, so they can help our customers critical key touch points. And then finally, we need to think about the partner experience. What is important for me to do in my business? What am I really good at? What drives my brand, drives my experience, gauged by customer, motivated by employee, that I should be doing, that I should be doing well?
And an outside-in assessment is important:
What do [companies] think the customer is seeing? What do they think the customer truly thinks about their products and services? In the journey of learning as a single human being, there's an old adage, which is, to thy own self be true. Companies need to look at themselves and say, 'Truly, am I the best at selling X or Y product or service? And if you're not, why aren't you? When you start ask that question, you're improving. When you turn around and say, 'I'm the best, the customer just doesn't understand me!', [then] you're on the wrong journey. You're going further away from what they want.
So, at the end of the day it's about understanding your emotional intelligence, your intellectual intelligence, your strengths, your weaknesses, because then you can learn and address and understand where your customers are going and realise that they aren't deciles or segments. People are individuals. They will act in different ways, but we have the technology to customize and personalize down to a single human being. And if we build our products and services right.,most of them can also be adapted quite quickly to do that.
So why's it not happening?
So that’s the theory. The inevitable question then is why this doesn’t happen more frequently as a norm? According to Loretto, there are multiple barriers in most organizations, not the least of which is previous practice:
You can't do X, Y or Z, we've never done it. But you get small Adtechs, Fintechs, Martechs, Edtechs and they go out and they do it. Ten years ago, to grow a company to over 100 million in 12 months, [you’d say] it’s impossible, you can't do it. But there are multiple small companies around that do that. If we look at our charts, there are lots of companies that have actually gone to 50 million customers in 12 to 18 months. It's amazing.
Not being constrained by the wrong sort of rules is critical, he adds:
The culture needs to disrupt. People need to look at the world slightly differently. Design Thinking gives you that epiphany. Look at the world through the potential to change. Look at the world through the 80/20 rule, and you'll be able to move forward more easily.
And in the process, organizations can come up with new models of operational behavior:
Traditionally we bolted our IT systems to the floor and we towered them to the sky and we thought they were brilliant. Then someone turns around and says, 'Can I change that from blue to green?' and there's like a [response], 'Why didn't you tell me that three years ago when I started it?'. We tend to forget that the world changes....In the last few months has changed massively, so things need to be adapted and changed.
We need to realise that the longer we leave something, it doesn't get better like red wine; it gets worse, like bananas after six weeks! It changes into something completely different.