I caution clients at the start of every service transformation project, that what is about to happen is going to cause extreme discomfort. After all, the reason why the project is being undertaken in the first place, is to cause the business to tilt on its axis. But all of my cautioning still does not prepare clients fully for the experience of change. Some still buckle under the pain of unfreezing from existing habits and the ensuing weight of on-boarding new, unfamiliar codes of behaviour, automation-powered processes and data-driven decisions.
Service transformation is deeply disruptive. It challenges the business to envision a future that it has never envisioned before and, moreover, to uproot itself and charge into uncharted territory. That’s very disconcerting if the business has been accustomed to a world of repetitive thinking, repetitive behaviours and an equally repetitive style of operating.
The businesses that make it through the change and transformation journey are typically obsessed with being “the best” in their particular business sectors. Unsurprisingly, for these businesses, “perpetual change” is a way of life with which they are very comfortable. Perpetual change is actually one of the anchoring corporate values of these businesses.
I caution clients at the start of every service transformation project, that what is about to happen is going to cause extreme discomfort.
Now, getting to this space where a business and its employee community are at peace with change, is neither a small, nor an overnight feat. It takes years of pruning and distillation to get to a place where shedding current ways of doing business is favoured over living in habitats of familiarity and where disturbing the peace, is favoured over sustaining comfort zones.
Achieving incremental improvements in customer experience is easy. All that’s involved is frontline training (which eventually fades if not reinforced), some minor tweaks to processes and deployment of a couple online processes. Basically, a bit (or a lot), of cosmetic touch-ups and window dressing.
Transformation, on the other hand, requires a quantum leap, or, as Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who was the first to set foot on the moon, would say, “A giant leap for mankind,” where change starts at the epicentre of the business.
Service transformation is deeply disruptive. It challenges the business to envision a future that it has never envisioned before and, moreover, to uproot itself and charge into uncharted territory.
Epicentre shifts target and go against the overarching drivers of the business. For example, if the business is sales-driven and structured around individuals meeting quotas and sales targets, then the first breakthrough has to be shifting the culture from one that is “sales-driven,” to one that is “sales and service” driven. In this way, the hardened shell of task and numbers-centeredness, will be softened to include an equal share of people and customer-centeredness.
Apart from answering the call to action with epicentre-shifting, a business that is walking the transformation plank, can boost its chances of success, if it is strong in two domains.
Firstly, having a taste and appetite for change would be a huge advantage. When a business has made continuous change and innovation a way of life, employees do not fear uncertainty and ambiguity. They relish change, having been habituated to viewing it as an essential accessory to progress.
The ground-breaking (and sometimes, back-breaking) work to build employee fervour, will need to be undertaken prior to deploying transformation projects, so that the stricture of employee apathy does not grind the projects to a halt.
Secondly, an employee community that feels impassioned about being a part of “building something grand,” would be a huge support to the transformational shift. Whenever I come across a business that boasts employees who feel exuberant about an impending change and who want to be a part of history-in-the-making, it tells me that the business has been working on normalizing a sense of belonging as part of its employee partnership strategy.
But, back to my original point of saying that service and customer experience transformation is not for faint-hearted businesses and faint-hearted leaders. What do we know so far about undertaking service and customer experience transformation projects that require cardio-muscularity?
Well, these projects upend the fundamental “physiology” of a business. Leaders will need to have an innate tolerance for discomfort, dislocation and disruption. Additionally, the ground-breaking (and sometimes, back-breaking) work to build employee fervour, will need to be undertaken prior to deploying transformation projects, so that the stricture of employee apathy does not grind the projects to a halt.
Another reality is that the cost of project failure is not just a hit to the budget, it weakens customer and stakeholder confidence in the business and that’s a blow to repeat business.
So, whilst the lay of the land is fraught with pitfalls, why is it imperative that businesses press ahead with their transformation agendas?
Because death by inertia, I believe, is unforgiveable.