We are living in an era of of titanic shifts; an era where significant changes happen in comparatively short amounts of time. 10 years ago, smartphones didn’t exist. Now we can’t live without them. Companies like Slack and Uber have gone from pre-existent to multi-billion dollar valuations in less than 5 years.
We are staring down the barrel of a world where autonomous cars and robotics will power a large percentage of of our world’s infrastructure. Virtual reality will propel us towards placing an “n factor” on just about everything, making the “reach” of virtually everything exponential. Connecting our homes, our gardens, offices, manufacturing equipment, and everything else will fundamentally shift how value is created, shared, distributed, and harvested.
But, there’s a lot of work to do, and these changes will ultimately take decades. These changes will most often offer incremental improvements that move us 5 steps ahead and then 3 steps back.
Navigating Monumental Transformation
Most organizations recognize that they are in the midst of monumental transformation. I’ve written and spoken extensively about the organizations asleep at the wheel, not making the right changes fast enough, not understanding the pace and the explosive impact of the shifts amongst us. But I see another risk that isn’t often spoken of. There are others who are over-betting, over assuming, over simplifying, and over weighting the “next big thing(s)”.
One such recent manifestation is that everyone seems to be talking about the importance of mapping the customer journey.
Understand your customers. Map their journey. Map your content and offers to the right step in the journey. Voila. Magic. Success.
This isn’t necessarily wrong thinking (though my friend and well respected thinker and analyst Esteban Kolsky would argue that it is). The problem is that too many organizations are beginning or extending their respective journey down this road, expecting that the exercise will reveal deep understanding and predictability about their cohorts and will make their life simpler, and more profitable.
Framing this through the expectations of incremental expectations is absolutely appropriate. By getting a better picture, it is absolutely reasonable to expect meaningful improvements of 1, 3, 5, or 10%. We’re moving from 20/300 vision to 20/240. It’s better, but most organizations are still legally blind. This is confirmed by a significant body of research that show how little customers believe organizations know about them. Web re-targeting for instance, while helpful, is still basically horrible in its understanding of who people are and what they’re trying to get done (though it is better than blind banner ads). Too may are expecting that Lasik-like results, and 20/20 vision is just around the corner and it’s simply not true.
Customer journeys and experiences are incredibly complicated – largely variable and subject to whim and dozens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of variables. As Dan Ariely explained, we (all customers) are Predictably Irrational.
Are there patterns to be discovered? Yes. Are they constant? No. Are they precise? No.
So, the challenge is not the process. It’s an appropriate exercise for our time related to creating better customer experiences and hopefully higher profitability. The challenge is the overweighting and the simplistic thinking that this will indeed be a silver bullet to customer acquisition and retention efforts.
I see the same patterns emerge in “big data” and IoT initiatives. (By the way, we saw the same things with ERP and CRM before that).
Five Steps Forward. Three Steps Back.
Uber is the most oft quoted success story du jour, but several of my last few Uber rides have sucked, quite frankly. As the company scales, finding drivers who have a friendly personality, know the local area, and are competent drivers is visibly getting harder. Summoning an Uber car when a Taxi is right outside the hotel is a harder decision to make. Yesterday, I waited 15 minutes for my Uber driver who was 2 minutes away because his phone couldn’t receive text messages or phone calls and he kept circling the airport arrivals level when I was at the mandated departures level. Another guy was incredibly friendly and helpful with a clean car, who couldn’t drive and couldn’t see the road at night.
I’m in the process of booking a vacation and because of the location have mostly used AirBnB and VRBO. It’s been a hassle. Upon trying to confirm a reservation, different prices are offered than what’s quoted on the website. There are large latencies in communications timeframes. I find myself longing for the frictionless booking process of the “professional” hospitality business.
The Nuance of Navigating Change
Change is well…change. The more we uncover, we realize how much we actually don’t know. Email didn’t go away because of social. Snail mail didn’t go away because of email. People still use the fax! New technologies disrupt and then ultimately carve out their own place in an ever expanding complex ecosystem.
And so the challenge for those evangelizing, driving, and executing change in their organizations is to understand and keep the core tenets of what things are so foundational that we’ve grown to take them for granted, while adopting new technologies to help accelerate new efforts. New technology will have downsides and risk. many of which we can’t predict.
Organizations need leaders who can appropriately assess how much to bet at the right time, and to set proper expectations with initiative sponsors, contributors, and recipients of technology driven change efforts. Move too slow, and your organization is done. Stick with the same model and you’re done. Bet too much on new technology and set unrealistic expectations, you’re in big trouble as well.
Navigating this course will require an astute ability to press the gas pedal fast enough to pass other cars on the road, patiently wait out storms that come along, and upgrade the car at just the right time to keep moving forward. Whatever you do, don’t give in to the shiny glow of false precision and over expectations.
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The views and opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG LLP.