In an increasingly digital world, customers want fast service but they also expect good service.
Meeting these sometimes competing demands whilst also delivering growth is one of the biggest challenges facing business today.
Those that pull it off do very well, in fact they’ve been called ‘superaccelerators’.
According to global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, there are currently 23 companies that can be classified as superaccelerators. The list includes Apple, Google and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
These are companies that have been in the top 20th percentile of growth and maintained profitability. And they have achieved this via organic means, not through acquisitions.
The good news is, you don’t have to be a massive global organisation to superaccelerate your business. At TCS Summit Europe 2017, business leaders from across the continent provided insights on how to use digital solutions to stay ahead of the competition.
1. Lead your customers, don’t follow
One trap that many companies fall into is being led by customer expectation. In the digital age of ‘Business 4.0’, organisations should be setting the agenda with agile and innovative ways of working.
Scott Jacobs, a London-based Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, told the summit: “It is becoming more important to be able to lead your customers, rather than be fast followers. It’s all about shaping the market.”
The best way to do this is by fully embracing automation, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.
Mr Jacobs added: “In the marketplace, no matter what business you’re in, customers are expecting faster digital products and they want them more than they have in the past – those are internal customers as well as external customers.”
2. Hide complexity within your business
As the rise of digitalization gathers momentum, more companies are turning to transformation projects as a way of embracing Business 4.0 and overcoming legacy issues.
Such projects are often complicated to implement. The key is to ensure the customer isn’t impacted.
Cristina Alvarez Alvarez, Director of Services Development & Systems and Chief Information Officer at Telefónica Spain, explained: “It’s very easy to say and very difficult to execute, but you must put the customer as the only common goal across the company.
“It is really important to create a seamless customer experience, hiding all the complexity you have inside the company. If you put transforming the company before customer experience you are going to be late on the market.”
3. Make your customers’ lives easier
Today’s digital capabilities make it far easier to anticipate customer demand. In most cases, what customers want is simply an easy life.
The banking sector has been quick to embrace the concept of Business 4.0, with smartphone apps and contactless payments widely available.
Javier Perez, President of Mastercard Europe believes it won’t be long before the plastic bank card becomes a thing of the past.
“Our purpose is to simplify payments and make customers’ lives easier,” he told the summit. “Plastic has to disappear, it’s a nuisance. [We have to think about] how we can make the consumer experience a better experience.”
Cybernetics expert, Professor Kevin Warwick, even suggested that in the future banking customers may be able to make payments via an implant.
4. Make sure everyone shares your vision
Having a digital vision and putting it into practice are two very different things. To thrive in the age of Business 4.0, some companies will have to fundamentally change their corporate culture.
After getting board-level approval, it is imperative that any digital transformation project is properly communicated to the company as a whole.
The John Lewis Partnership went through a significant transformation following the appointment of Paul Coby in 2011. In just six years, Coby, who now serves as CIO, has helped steer John Lewis from being a 15% online business to one that derives well over 50% of its business from online sales.
He told summit delegates: “When I joined we spotted that the tectonic plates in retail were starting to move. So I talked to all of our colleagues and was very explicit about what we thought was an enormously ambitious target of having 40% online business by 2020. Last Black Friday we were a 55% online business.
“It’s about the CEO and every person on the leadership team articulating [their vision]. The most important thing is convincing everybody why this matters and why everybody needs to change, because it’s enormously challenging in terms of how we run our stores.”
5. Disrupt your industry by embracing digital
Some industries are less receptive to digitalization, pensions being one example.
As a traditional advice-based industry that relies on personal contact, pension providers have been relatively slow to embrace Business 4.0. But change is happening.
Set up by the UK government, workplace pension scheme, NEST, is in the rather unusual position of not being allowed to turn away business. If an employer chooses a NEST policy then the provider must accept. Around 450,000 employers have signed up to NEST so far.
In a heavily-regulated and customer-centric industry, unknown demand can create problems. Not only can a digital solution help bridge the gap, it can also serve to disrupt the wider market.
Nick Sex, Chief Operating Officer at NEST, told the summit: “Just before we started there were a whole range of people saying ‘nobody has done this in a digital way before – you will be snowed under with paperwork and it simply won’t work’.
“The conversation after that was that we would have to become a digital-first business, everything has to be digital. What that means for us is that the employers and the members have to self-serve digitally and the services have to be straight through. It hasn’t worked in the pensions industry before, but there are other industries where people are very happy to self-serve.”
Becoming a superaccelerator is never going to be easy.
It’s about constantly seizing the opportunities of today’s rapidly evolving market and being willing to anticipate change, implement it, and follow it through, making sure you take your entire company with you.
The only way to achieve this is by adopting a flexible leadership approach. As TCS Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, says: “The [corporate executives] certainly need to lead the change.
“Sometimes they need to lead from the top, sometimes they need to empower the mid-levels to be very decisive, sometimes it needs to be completely bottom up. It depends on the level of complexity of the transformation that’s involved.”
For those that get it right, opportunities for growth are better than ever.