Mark Curtis, chief client officer and co-founder of Accenture’s Fjord consultancy, says businesses must embrace digital advances, as customers demand they keep pace with rapid developments.
By Alison Coleman for The Telegraph.
Every time customers are introduced to something new, brilliant and surprising in today’s rapidly evolving consumer market, it colours everything that follows.
It is a phenomenon that Mark Curtis, chief client officer and co-founder of Accenture’s Fjord consultancy, refers to as ‘‘liquid expectations’’, and it’s the reason even the most buttoned-up brand may respond to customers on Twitter in a way that would have made bosses cringe just 10 years ago.
The companies making the greatest waves are digital leaders such as Amazon and Apple ‒ companies that continually innovate to exceed people’s needs, expectations and preferences in every aspect of their lives, and fit services and communications in around them.
“But what’s interesting, and very new, is that those increased expectations of all other customer service providers go beyond sector boundaries,” says Mr Curtis. “You are no longer comparing one bank with another, you are comparing banks with companies across all other industry barriers. That is the premium that digital has placed on customer experience.”
In effect, the Ubers and Airbnbs have become living businesses, delivering services that respond and learn in real time around the customer. This sets the bar high for other organisations that may not have the flexibility, culture or digital capability to act so rapidly. But refusing to evolve is simply not an option.
An urgent need for change
A big driver of change is businesses realising that poor internal structures are stopping new products and services coming to market on time. “For many CEOs that recognition that their business is quite inflexible becomes an important catalyst,” says Mr Curtis.
The challenge for those businesses determined to be more responsive often lies in knowing how and where to begin that journey.
Unsurprisingly, says Mr Curtis, most start by asking the leaders in the field. “We see teams of senior executives, led by the CEO, heading out to Silicon Valley to see firsthand how living businesses are working, using technology, and being customer-focused. That can be a catalyst for changing hearts and minds at the top of the organisation and igniting the spark for change.”
‘Insight’ is used too often in business language but recognising just how little they know about their customers is also often a driver for executives to seek help in addressing customers’ liquid expectations.
Fjord specialises in designing the systems and processes needed to turn what businesses do know about their customers into actionable insights. Mr Curtis says that these insights often come as a surprise, or even a shock.
“It can stop business leaders in their tracks,” he says. “They thought they understood their customers, but realise that actually they don’t. It can make them re-evaluate how they approach customer-centricity across the organisation.”
The model for success
The transition to becoming a living business requires a cohesive, united approach from senior leaders and a framework for managing the complex web of tasks that lie ahead. For Mr Curtis, there are four main areas of activity that organisations need to focus on: personality, instinct, craft and relationships.
All companies have a personality, originating both from the CEO and from the leaders and the culture that have existed in the recent past.
Mr Curtis says: “The question is does that personality enable the organisation to create and deliver dynamic, context-aware services? It could be that what’s preventing the business becoming more nimble is something at the executive level.’’
When it comes to instinct, the situation is similar, notes Mr Curtis. Defining the term as the rules of a business’s decision-making culture – loosely federated or highly centralised, micro-managed or autonomous – the way that leaders empower staff to respond to the market will determine whether or not a business can keep up with the best competitors.
Craft is about excellence, says Mr Curtis. Are fundamental things done with care? Is attention paid to detail? In a bank, for example, are personal finance or mortgage services, designed with customers in mind first, or are customers greeted warmly whether in branch or online?
And it’s the recognition of the importance of relationships ‒ and their ongoing management ‒ that underpins all of the above. A living business will continually assess and improve on every interaction and communication to or from everyone it has contact with, whether they are an employee, a supplier, a client or a shareholder.
It’s important that businesses realise the scale of such a commitment ‒ just consider how many relationships even a small organisation must manage.
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