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The race to digitalization is well underway as companies learn that they will be left behind if they don’t offer the professional customer the online access, recommendations, and feedback they are accustomed to in their everyday lives.
We know that Artificial Intelligence can suggest additional items to a grocery list. But it can also support purchases of complex, highly technical product sets and services for industrial, manufacturing, utility, or government buyers.
In fact, digitally transforming a company is a tremendous opportunity to upgrade the customer experience and maximize potential transactions. In tandem with human strategy, a seamless digital platform can drive revenues and achieve efficiencies that maximize profits.
While the particular characteristics of different industries may vary, a successful digital transformation is founded on the fundamentals of customer service. These include meeting the customer where they are, advancing their strategic goals, and eliminating friction from all touchpoints of the client experience.
This is a particularly nuanced process for companies that rely on consultative customer relationships and for those that create highly customized products or services. The digital platform does not replace the expert whose industry and client knowledge is at the core of your offering. Likewise, it has to accurately capture customer feedback and anticipate demands.
We at Turtle & Hughes faced these kinds of issues when we embarked on our digital transformation project almost two years ago. As an industrial and power distribution company servicing ambitious projects from the revitalization of New York’s LaGuardia Airport to a state-wide digital power grid for a utility, our business is extremely technical, client specific and service-oriented.
Also, as a privately-held family business rooted in client relationships for over 97 years, we had to consider how to retain these crucial aspects of our brand while meeting the accelerating market demands for 24/7 digital transactions.
We decided to create a technology-enabled omni-channel that could embrace the full spectrum of our client preferences—from the seasoned manager accustomed to personal conversations to the tech-savvy Millennial requiring digital options. We leveraged AI to embed their interests and habits into our system, and we offered them a variety of ways to interact with us.
Key steps to digital transformation for a customer-centric company:
• Meet your customers where they are. Ease your customers into the new system by allowing them to engage in it where and when they choose. Continue to offer them their current access points – for example, a knowledgeable salesperson or relationship manager, while making available an AI-informed customer order and servicing system.
The takeaway: Just as you would in a sales process, draw your customers into the digital conversation, don’t push it on them.
• Don’t change the customer experience—enhance it. Understanding customer behavior and using AI to capture that relationship is at the heart of a successful digital transformation. We know that human interaction cannot be 100% replicated; but we could come close using a proprietary approach we took by building a “Digital Twin TM ”.
This “twin” uses AI to capture rich and relevant customer information and weaves it into the digital platform. Unlike robots that frustrate consumers with irrelevant filters, a “twin” replicates the conversations they are accustomed to – but gives them the option of having them in the evening or over the weekend.
The takeaway: This is an ongoing process that gets better with time. Properly implemented, it will intake and layer your customers’ preferences into all their interactions with you.
• Content is king—invest in it. Your customer experience is only as good as your content. This is especially true in technical or complex product offerings when purchasers require detailed information targeted to their needs.
For a product company, a “private label” catalogue is one way to utilize your AI-generated customer information and create an array of options that your client’s buying teams want to see. Even something as simple as 500 feet of wire can lead to a digital conversation from which a procurement officer can make an informed purchasing decision.
The takeaway: Customer-targeted content enables decision-making with minimum friction and maximum satisfaction.
“While the particular characteristics of different industries may vary, a successful digital transformation is founded on the fundamentals of customer service”
• Digital services are not an “add-on.” If the digital transformation is not embedded into the business cycle, it will fail. Your digital platform must be seamlessly connected to all the other business processes impacting their customer relationship—from sales to billing.
Bring your sales force into the process early so that they are fluent in the new offerings and can take the lead in building them into the customer relationship. And don’t forget the back end. We have already experienced efficiency gains through the digitalization of our invoice processing; in fact, over 30 percent of our invoices don’t require human intervention.
The takeaway: Your entire company uses the platform as an integrated entity—people, process, and technology.
As important as it is to be thoughtful in this process, today’s businesses must also be proactive. Don’t wait for your customer to ask for an integrated digital system. Digital transformation is here to stay. Seize it as an opportunity to connect to your customer in a meaningful way.