By Dr Jim Hamill, class coordinator for the MBA elective Digital Leadership: Strategy and Management at Strathclyde Business School
Digital is the future of business and this is becoming increasingly obvious to organisations of all sizes in a wide range of industries. The emergence of new technologies is changing the way we live and work and because of this, many unfamiliar digital opportunities and challenges now face business leaders. Those who choose to ignore them may be left behind.
Emergence of Gen C – the constantly connected generation
This group doesn’t just comprise millennials and digital natives (those born into or brought up in the age of digital culture) but anyone who lives a major part of their lives online. This impacts on how we access information, communicate, collaborate and make purchasing decisions. In a constantly connected world, the ‘brand’ has become the customer’s experience of the ‘brand’ – experiences that are widely shared online. Positive word-of-mouth spreads quickly; negative word-of-mouth spreads even quicker.
Constantly connected customers are also our constantly connected employees
Within the next decade, digital natives will account for 75% of the global workforce. This will have a major impact on the way in which organisations operate. The traditional, hierarchical, ‘command and control’ organisational structure used by most companies is giving way to new open, flexible and transparent ways of working. Industrial era hierarchies are not suitable for a knowledge based, constantly connected economy.
Power shift, especially the growing empowerment of customers
As a consequence of the power shift from brands and suppliers to customers, traditional approaches to sales and marketing are declining in effectiveness. Only 14% of customers trust advertising whereas 90% trust peer reviews. New approaches to sales and marketing are required based on the key principles of inbound/content marketing including knowledge sharing, establishing credibility and adding value.
The delivery of social customer service excellence has become ‘mission critical’
Constantly connected customers now expect their social customer service enquiries to be answered efficiently and effectively. To achieve this, leading brands need to set up Social Customer Service (SCS) Command Centres. A good example is First ScotRail (now Abellio ScotRail) where all customer comments on social media are answered in an efficient and timely manner. Sean Duffy, Commercial Director of the previous First ScotRail franchise, states: “The active real time engagement with customers through our Social Customer Service Centre led to an almost immediate improvement in brand reputation. Of equal importance, the ‘big data’ we collect through real time engagement provides actionable customer insights which are then disseminated throughout the organisation to improve the overall customer experience”. Talking with rather than at customers has become the new marketing.
A shift from social media to social business
Current leading thinking argues we are on the verge of another tectonic shift: from social media to social business. A social business is one that develops innovative new work methods and processes by applying social thinking, social strategy, social culture, social organisation and social technologies to everything it does (internally as well as externally). Organisations that ‘get this’ will survive and prosper – those that don’t will become 21st century dinosaurs.
Digital disruption and digital leaders
A combination of the internet, social media, mobile connectivity, smartphones, the Cloud, Big Data, the Internet of Things and Gen C are leading to the ‘end of business as usual’. No industry or company is immune from the potential of digital disruption. As a consequence, organisations need to adapt or die. Digital transformation has become critical to how we innovate and differentiate ourselves from the competition. A new breed of senior executive is required – digital leaders; executives who can combine high level business knowledge, experience and understanding with the ability to develop digital transformation strategies fully aligned with and supportive of agreed business goals and objectives; with the confidence and personal skills to drive organisational change.
The need for new business performance measures
As the way we work evolves so too must the way we evaluate work. New real-time analytical measures that take into consideration organisations’ digital impact have already come into play. There is however, a growing need for performance measures based on the quality of the business’ online network, the strength of its online relationships and the organisation’s ability to leverage these connections (up and cross sell).
Used effectively, digital and social media technologies can help break down the traditional barriers to exporting SMEs often face, leading to more rapid internationalisation of the sector. However, policy supporting UK SME export activity is heavily outdated, stuck in a 30 year pre-digital time warp. We need export support programmes ‘fit for purpose’ in an increasingly inter-connected world.