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Whisper it — but EMEA business leaders are looking on the bright side

Detlef Krause Profile picture for user Detlef Krause February 23, 2023
Shhhh... don't tell everyone, but Detlef Krause of ServiceNow has some research findings that point to optimism for senior executives and some practical digital transformation examples.

Pop Art style comic book panel whispering in ear secrets with speech bubble, rumor, word-of-mouth concept vector illustration © durantelallera - Shutterstock
(© durantelallera - Shutterstock)

You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in an era of significant disruption. As a region — and more globally — we’re not only dealing with the wake of the COVID pandemic, we’re also coming to terms with a range of geopolitical and economic crises that show few signs of ending any time soon.

Times like these can leave both individuals and businesses feeling powerless. But we should be pragmatic here and focus on what we can do, rather than what we can’t.

Judging by the findings of our recent research with ThoughtLab, what we can do is quite a lot. The results show business sentiment across EMEA — particularly in the central region — is surprisingly positive for later this year and beyond.

So where does this positivity come from? And how can we harness it to overcome the obstacles we face, and get ready for the upswing when it comes?

Today’s outlook – good; tomorrow’s outlook – better

Let’s start with the stats. We found 48% of senior exec leaders in Germany had an overall ‘good’ or ‘very good’ assessment of the macro environment this year. For the next two years, that rises to 81% in Germany, and 70% across EMEA. Indeed, only 3% and 5% of execs in Germany and EMEA respectively had a bad or very bad outlook of the next two years.

The actual impact the current situation is having on organizations was also seen as broadly positive: 43% said the impacts were positive now, but 73% estimated they would be positive in the next two years – that number was less in EMEA at 38% and 66% respectively, but the positivity is still striking.

The issues business leaders identified as particularly critical right now are not particularly surprising: inflation was the main worry, followed by rising interest rates and spiralling energy costs. These are things that businesses can mitigate, but they can’t necessarily fix.

Dig a bit deeper, however, and there’s a lot more to uncover. Some 46% of German execs see customer retention as one of the hardest challenges they face in response to the current macroeconomic situation, while in the next two years, the talent shortage is seen to be a critical challenge (44%).

Talent onboarding and retention is evidently high up the priority list, with businesses such as American Express GBT using ServiceNow solutions to enhance the new joiner and wider employee experience – with this delivering the equivalent of a 99% productivity gain.

All eyes turn to digital transformation

Luckily, there’s a clear sense already as to where the solutions to these problems might lie: 33% in Germany said accelerating digital transformation was their top priority in response to current event; that number was 40% EMEA-wide.

Accelerating digital transformation sounds good. But where is that transformation really needed?

I’m keen we go back to the human angle here — because it sits at the heart of everything.

We need the right people to make transformation happen, but the experience of work itself is an essential criterion to getting people in the door — and keeping them. That’s why we also need the right tools to make life easier for the people we employ. And that’s borne out in our research: 58% of those surveyed in Germany are turning to workflow automation tools and 60% using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to make work easier.

It's a similar situation as regards our customers. Growth is essential to seeing our way out of the current macroeconomic environment, and 31% of businesses in Germany are looking to improve competitive position. But you can’t grow without customers — and more specifically, the right customers.

What do I mean by that? Essentially, rather than casting a wide net for the most possible customers and relationships you can find, there is far more value you can bring to the relationships you already have — and the gains are far more significant when compared with the marginal gains of signing up as many people as possible.

What’s required to build those existing relationships is a top-tier experience: from an intimate understanding of the customer and their problems, to bespoke tools that meet their needs exactly. (Ultimately, if you can’t meet your customer’s needs, it doesn’t matter how good your technology is.)

We’re already seeing large businesses in the region introduce advanced tech to tackle these challenges, such as leading Austrian telecommunications provider, A1 Telekom. The company worked with ServiceNow to introduce automation, chatbots, and self-service tools to enhance customer satisfaction – all while trimming labour-intensive manual tasks.

To conclude my message to businesses in the region right now: firstly, I’m with you — the outlook today is positive. Secondly, we’re on the right track: digital transformation is the right answer to mitigating the challenges we face right now and securing growth in the future.

But, finally, remember what will sit at the heart of future growth: your own people, and your customers. If you can’t hire and retain the right employees — or build the right customer relationships that secure substantial growth — success will be hard. But if you keep employees and customers at the centre of your digital transformation goals, and build your tools and processes around them — we might just stand a chance of turning today’s positive outlook into tomorrow’s reality.

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