Digital transformation – how to bring through your back office culture

For many companies, digital transformation offers a way to be competitive. Whether you are at a traditional company going up against new market entrants, or a small start-up trying to compete with digital giants, the promise of digital transformation is that you can offer better products or services using IT. However, making digital transformation a success is still problematic.

Why is this? It’s not actually the technology that creates challenges here. According to research by Gartner in the company’s 2018 CIO Survey, CIOs and CEOs list culture as the most significant issue they have in scaling up digital transformation – around 46% rated it as their largest priority for the future.

The challenge here is not so much the competition element, or the technology – these are areas that have existed for years. Instead, this does involve a large scale change to how people think, work and process their roles within an organisation. This is much more likely to face resistance to change.

So how can you make changes to culture as well as to digital? More importantly, how can you make those changes stick beyond the front office?

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Bringing back-office change to the forefront

The answer here is not to try and apply new digital approaches. Instead, areas like IT Service Management have already been going through their own quiet revolutions in terms of how teams approach issues and manage their goals. These lessons have often been limited to these specific teams as they don’t attract the same limelight as large scale digital and front office projects. However, these projects are all themed around culture change.

For digital transformation projects – where changes are taking place in the relationship between customer and company, or where new approaches to services are being put in place – these experiences around change, culture and delivery can be really valuable. This can be direct experience, such as adding new channels for support. It can also be indirect – for example, where more self-service or automation is used.

To build up and scale service delivery, automation has to be used. For IT service teams, automation has become a necessary part of their roles in order to keep up with the volume of service requests across multiple channels. However, automation has to be used smartly in order to deliver the right level of impact. Without this planning, it becomes a faster way of delivering the same results, rather than providing room for strategy around customer experience and – more crucially – better customer engagement.

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For teams in these instances, being successful here means putting a long-term strategy in place that uses automation to deliver better service and support over time. As an example, implementing chatbots to deal with simpler queries provides a positive user experience and helps offload tickets from other channels.

However, this project should involve looking at how the chatbot is kept trained on problems and content to solve those issues – while tools like machine learning will help a chatbot keep up to date, this is not effective enough on its own. Instead, human agents can provide more guidance and training to the chatbot on appropriate and effective responses over time. This training element also helps agents focus on the real-world issues that are coming up and provides data on what trends are taking place. By linking human agents with the right automation tools for customer interaction, both service teams and customers benefit.

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Processing processes – what makes these changes stick?

As part of these new implementations, there are several common factors to projects that prove to be successful when it comes to changes taking place. These are:

• Bottom-up adoption – the most successful of these projects come when the service staff plan the change themselves, including areas like tool selection and implementation. If the project requires a consultant to implement the tools, then the changes of success are lower.
• Fast return – the longer it takes to implement any part of the project, the more likely it is that the project will fail. When companies can get part of their digital transformation project up and running successfully in a short timeframe, they can prove the value internally to both the direct departments affected and the management teams too.
• Internal marketing – the best projects don’t only deliver their results; they tell everyone about why those results matter. Rather than providing reports alone, they find help to tell the story of the project to other departments and provide evidence of the impact that it has had.
• Don’t ever stop UAT – User Acceptance Testing is a necessary step within all large projects, but those that succeed the best keep running testing phases over time. Finding the right advocates internally through UAT can help you spot those people that are keen to support your efforts, and also keep you innovating around the right areas. Developing and adding functionality in response to user demand can help you build up more support internally from end-users.

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In any organisation, there may be people who don’t want to accept change or actively work against it. In these situations, it’s worth looking at why these changes aren’t accepted straight away. From simple misunderstandings through to deliberate project blocking, there can be a wide range of reasons for resistance. Upton Sinclair, journalist and political candidate once said:“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

If this is the case, securing successful change will involve building more understanding of how digital transformation projects can deliver both successful results and support those teams internally. Roles and responsibilities might change, rather than replacing those positions; for those staff internally with skills and experience, it is easier to redeploy them rather than hiring from scratch.

Making digital transformation projects work involves more than technology – it requires the right mix of people, process and persuasion to be successful. Looking at similar projects that are already running internally can help you deliver digital transformation and make the results last longer.

Written by Simon Johnson, general manager UKI at Freshworks
Written by Simon Johnson, general manager UKI at Freshworks

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