Six Megatrends of the New Normal

As the old saying goes, “When we plan, the Gods laugh.”

As humans, we believe tomorrow to be similar to today. While we know a disruption may come along and change our fortunes, we often feel it’s too ambiguous to anticipate. No wonder we feel blind-sided when disruption occurs. We use words like “surprised,” “didn’t see that coming,” “never would have guessed” — and if the disruption is big enough, “paradigm shift.”

Typically, this isn’t how the future unfolds. Sudden, seismic change rarely happens out of the blue. Instead, the future is shaped by many seemingly unrelated events that gain momentum over time. We often don’t recognize the significance of emerging trends or their relationship with other trends. Individual trends mature and influence other trends with increasing frequency and coalesce until a tipping point is reached — much like a crescendo in a score of music. That’s why disruptions can have such a jarring effect.

Organizations can avoid being caught off-guard by reading the tea leaves. It’s a corporate competence that has mostly lapsed in the past 20 years, outside the purviews of futurists, strategists, and researchers. It will make a comeback as companies realize that tomorrow is nothing like today.

Post-COVID-19 Mega-Trends

The pandemic is a catalyst for how companies operate, structure, and sell.

Individuals and organizations are forced into new behaviors. While we’d like to believe these are temporary, the longer new conditions are in place, the more new behaviors will become habit. Constraints are unmasking structural gaps in our economy, commerce models, and culture that must be addressed for survival.

Of the hundreds of signposts that indicate how the world is changing, we identified our top six megatrends that will soon determine how business is done:

  1. Time will become the basis of competition.
  2. Authentic human connections will redefine commerce.
  3. Companies will organize around the customer.
  4. Vigilant organizations will rise, driven by purpose.
  5. Business models will shift from optimization and efficiency to agility and speed.
  6. Global supply chains will restructure around proximity to demand.

“Time slips away like grains of sand never to return again,” said Robin Sharma[1].

The majority of people on the planet today are better off than their forefathers. With physiology, safety, love, and esteem generally satisfied, people strive for self-actualization. Yet what is most scarce is time.

Time is the basis of competition

We fret much of our time away in an economy fixated with busy. Time is treated as a commodity that does not belong to the individual. It belongs to organizations, obligations and meeting societal standards. The result is a population suffering from mental illness, unhealthy lifestyles, stress, substance abuse, suicide, and loneliness.

We see our busyness for what it was — an addiction. The price paid is the inability to invest time in interests that matter most to us, and a conflated sense of guilt when we do. Even what should be fun is seen as a part of busyness and obligation. The gym is another check on the list of to-dos.

Being forced to shelter in place with limited mobility forces us to realize the value of time. There is a global rise of a conscious freeing up of one’s time for those activities that provide real meaning in life.

Authentic human connections will redefine commerce

The past 40 years have introduced incredible advances in technology, radically redefining commerce and customer relationships. Power shifted from the salesperson to the customer. This trend unleashed new digital marketing and selling models, as vendors sought to establish more effective ways to reach, engage, and build enduring relationships at scale.

Customers and prospects overwhelmed with emails and content, cherry-picked what interested them, ignoring the rest. Phones are no longer answered. Brands found ways to reach prospects via SMS text, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and customers tune out what isn’t relevant.

Tune-out behaviors are in the physical world too — with the rise of ghosting, gaslighting, and ends-justify-the-means. Curiosity, openness, respect, and honesty were replaced by suspicion, hostility, fear, and ambivalence.

Navigating the labyrinth of chatbots, emails, social media accounts, and phone numbers to reach a human representative is exhausting. Customers are jaded by inconsistent experiences between pre- and post-purchase. On the flip side, brands are becoming less customer-aligned because the few employees with direct, in-depth experience dealing with customers do not have loud enough internal voices to shape change. Comforted in the distance and impersonal nature of NPS and CSAT scores, feedback surveys, and VOC studies, brands are out of touch with what customers want and value — human connection and authentic relationships.

The pandemic exposed how disconnected people are from their communities and each other. The overnight appearance of Zinners (Zoom dinners), quarantine cooking classes, virtual happy hours, and virtual customer meetups speaks to the craving people around the world have for authenticity. In the hundreds of hours I’ve spent talking with B2B sales and marketing leaders, and their customers across the globe, the same vocabulary is used to describe what people are looking for in vendor relationships — be human, authentic, compassionate, connected, sharing without expectation, and free to do the right thing.

Organize around the customer

For businesses, saving customers time without sacrificing expectations will become the basis of competition.

The abundance, diversity, and continuous introduction of new products and services during the past 50 years; coupled with customers’ easy access to information, suppliers, product options, and vendor ratings have increased the demand for individualized products. Personalized medicine, vitamins, and trainers. Swag from Vistaprint. Eerily prescient financial advisors. Gifts from Etsy. Coffee prepared to specification. Custom-built homes. Designer vacations.

Delivering a service faster, in and of itself, will not produce market leaders. Deep, actionable understanding of expectations through the eyes of the customer will. This is a table stake to defining the right new offerings. Innovation will produce new ways of saving time and speed up activities through new products, services, and software.

Product lines will be redesigned with minimum core features and a vast menu of add-ons to personalize each product to meet each customer’s unique specifications. 3D printers will be commonplace in the workplace, replacing traditional vendors and purchase channels — from the hardware store to Amazon. The rule of thumb may well be: If the customer can print the product faster with the desired quality and ability to customize, why buy anywhere else and wait? New services will emerge to help customers navigate the process of configuring and buying individualized products.

The bottom line: Speed, quality, and customer-driven are critical success factors to compete in the new normal, accelerating the pace of change.

Meeting customers’ evolving expectations requires a different type of organization than what is prevalent today.

The long bull market after the Great Recession came from businesses continually optimizing for efficiency. Enterprise technology was both a great catalyst and an enabler. Automating routine tasks, streamlining processes, standardizing information exchanges, adding sophisticated intelligence to data analysis to improve decision outcomes, and empowering customers and employees to self-serve their needs are just a few examples. New technology created new opportunities to work smarter, increase productivity, and shorten business cycles.

Yet, the more intra- and inter-company business practices integrated with technology, the less flexible organizations became. To effectively compete on speed requires organizations to have agility as a core competence.

In response, businesses will shift from optimization and efficiency to agility and speed.

Vigilant organizations will rise, driven by purpose

Growth in the next era will not come from short-term opportunistic business models. These will be crushed under the velocity of change; success will be to those with a long term perspective.

Rise of vigilant organizations driven by purpose addresses this significant reversal from today’s short-term obsession with profit.

Vigilant organizations, as defined by George Day[2], are long-term oriented companies with a learning culture. They invest in strategies driven by outside-in perspectives, in-depth customer insights, continuous external trend analysis, and sense-making. Within the organization, data is transparent and fluid to empower all workers’ actions and decisions.

What defines these organizations is their mission to do good. Increasingly, customers and workers demand organizations that embrace meaningful causes tied to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Just like Tom’s Shoes’[3] commitment to put shoes on the feet of people in need or Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan[4], company missions and cultures with purpose at the core will be successful in the new era. Early leaders have overcome the challenges that come with shifting to a sustainable model: higher costs and prices in the near term and ineffective circular economy ecosystems, are just two.

The real game-changer is the idling of the global economy. It demonstrates the impact we have on the planet. From the lack of air pollution over major cities to clear waters in Venice canals and the measurable reduction in the earth’s vibration, the importance of sustainability is becoming unavoidably evident.

Shift to agility and speed

To achieve both agility and speed in response to rapidly evolving customer demand, organizations will evolve their structures and operating models to be flexible-first. The increasing velocity of change does not afford organizations the luxury of institutionalizing rigidity under the banner of stability. That does not mean organizations will run amok with anarchism; instead, we will manage and organize them differently.

Three key elements to flexible-first: Digital transformation, redefining employment, and strategic planning.

Digital transformation will extend beyond self-service; automated workflows; and open information access to customers, employees, and partners. Flexible-first organizations rapidly assess and share how programs, resources, and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) change as a result of decisions made — up and down the organization and value chains. Digital transformation will be instrumental in automatically communicating decisions — along with cascading plans and objectives — across organizational teams, internally and externally.

Alignment is critical to agility. In flexible-first companies, each worker aligns with the organization’s strategic plan. Not in vague terms, but in specific ones where, regardless of rank, each worker commits to deliver quantifiable results by agreed-upon dates. I call these target contributions. Each target contribution ties to specific corporate objectives. Add up all the target contributions, and they equal or exceed the associated objectives.

As corporate objectives evolve in response to internal and external factors, so will each individual’s target contributions. This participatory process is not new. What is new is how digital transformation speeds the process, institutionalizes alignment, and provides near real-time transparency into what’s working and what isn’t.

Corporate alignment and strategic planning rub hierarchical organizational structures the wrong way. It requires accountability, evergreen participatory planning, a culture of transparency, and setting measurable objectives across business areas, not just revenue. Not a great fit for organizations wedded to a command-and-control, perks-with-rank culture.

Companies in the next era will usher in new forms of organizing workers. Organizing for flexibility-first requires taking a page out of Agile methodology. Instead of hierarchies of workers, groups of cross-functional teams (or pods, as I like to call them) organize around customers, markets, and partners. Innovation makes a through-line across the pod structure. Within each pod is the competence and expertise required to plan, serve, and deliver results. They are self-governing yet stay aligned through mutually agreed upon service SLAs, framed by corporate strategic objectives. Pods can spot and act on emerging opportunities faster, enabling complex organizations to effectively deal with high levels of uncertainty and be successful.

This shift from short-term-ism to agile long-term orientated business models will have a dramatic impact on global economies. As companies make the shift, it will drive tremendous innovation and transformation in supply chains.

Proximity to demand

Global supply chains are at the core of optimization and efficiency. Component parts are produced where the labor and supply costs are the cheapest. Electronics and consumer goods in China, fast fashion in Vietnam and Bangladesh, software code in the Ukraine, pharmaceuticals in India. Supply chains are the backbone of globalization and raised the standard of living for billions. However, the economics of supply chain optimization require that slack and excess inventory be removed along the chain to further reduce costs and demand risks. Hyper-optimization does not comfortably accommodate sudden massive disruptions. We see the effects across every industry, from healthcare to grocery stores.

Companies are rethinking their entire supply chains and moving key production to be in close proximity of demand, ensuring their customers continual supply. That includes determining which parts of the supply chain should be on- or near-shore, reassessing optimal inventory levels, and determining which products should no longer be produced en masse.

As speed becomes the basis of competition, an interplay will be seen between next-generation supply chains, innovation and customer expectations.

To the customer, it’s all about having one’s uniqueness recognized, served, and remembered — delivered quickly — without compromising value and quality. That’s a tall order, but it is also in response to the social upswell for authentic, empathic relationships. #behuman

The difference between the past 20 years and the future is that customer experience and strategy will become core corporate competencies again and enjoy a renaissance. While we will settle into the new normal in the coming five-plus years, it would behoove us to learn the lessons from this disruption — read the tea leaves and act on them. The trends that will be the seeds of the next disruption are already in play.

[1] https://www.awakenthegreatnesswithin.com/35-inspirational-quotes-time/

[2] https://ssir.org/books/excerpts/entry/becoming_more_vigilant

[3] https://www.toms.com/about-toms

[4] https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/

7 Customer Experience Guidelines

Every company wants to be more customer aligned. Happier customers buy more and more frequently. They also tend to share positive word of mouth with their peers and colleagues. When things get bumpy in the relationship, they’ll cut you more slack than new or disgruntled customers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a team of consultants to figure out that profit margins and customer lifetime value (CLV) are higher with satisfied customers. Who wouldn’t want that? What holds many companies back from going all-in on customer experience is – how to get started. The volume of advice from technology vendors, practitioners, bloggers, and consultants can be overwhelming and confusing. The approaches touted as best practices often conflict and demonstrable, measurable success is circumstantial and hard to measure. Unable to determine how to get started and who can help them – a culture coach, six sigma process expert, qualitative researcher, a strategist, industry analyst, or a customer success consultant – companies often opt instead for a DIY (Do It Yourself) to control the pace of the change and learn along the way. They’ve decided to figure out customer alignment for themselves even if it means some trial and error and dead-ends. Why? Companies are looking for common sense in how they approach customer alignment. C-suite and leaders understand that becoming customer-aligned is a transformation that touches every corner and employee of the company. Lots of dust is going to get kicked up, just make sure it doesn’t choke the company to death in the process. Based on our nine years of client engagements, here are seven guidelines to help companies figure out how to get started with their customer experience initiatives:

1. Executive champion.

If not the CEO, that person should be in the C-Suite so they can help other leaders connect the dots between the effort and the ROI as well as run interference when change threatens a sacred cow or when the initiative runs into the inevitable bumps in the road or budget cuts.

2. Solve a handful of key use cases.

Instead of trying to achieve the optimal customer experience out of the box, zero in on a handful of use cases that will move the needle for key customer segments. Let what matters to customers guide your focus, not how grandiose the initiative sounds or could be. Making incremental improvements that are important to customers goes a long way to improve customer loyalty and retention.

3. Do the right thing for the customer.

Lots of customer experience approaches quickly become complicated and confusing with steps that don’t seem to relate to the use cases being solved. Determine what approach is right for you based on what customers said they want to experience. In other words, ask customers first, then act.

4. Review your policies and procedures.

The root causes of customer dissatisfaction are usually internal policies and procedures designed to support hierarchical structures and perks with rank cultures. That doesn’t mean toss out sound governance, instead look at the correlation between policies, procedures, and customer feedback. Does your billing, contract negotiations, accounts receivables, return, etc. drive the bulk of complaints? Ask yourself the question, “Would my customer feel good about experiencing this policy or procedures?” If the answer is “no,” revisit how to maintain appropriate internal controls while making it easier to do business with you.

5. Let the use case define what data to collect.

Companies have become obsessed with the amount of data they collect. Unfortunately, just because every piece of data can be analyzed doesn’t mean it should or that it will reveal meaningful information. Don’t let data become a novelty item. Instead, develop a hypothesis for each use case and analyze only the data needed to prove or disprove the theory. Have your domain experts review any analytics to make sure you’re interpreting the data correctly.

6. Measure what you manage.

It’s tempting to report on an array of metrics, but that will take you down a rabbit hole. Pick a handful of KPIs that are relevant to the use cases you’re solving – is it churn, conversion, sentiment analysis? Make sure the KPIs are something the entire company understands and keep it simple. You can always evolve the KPIs as the company adjusts to new ways of engaging customers.

7. Crawl, walk, then run.

Start small. As the company builds its understanding of customers and how they define experience, values, and engagement, then expand the scope of customer alignment initiative. The best measures of success are customer effort level and customer satisfaction. Share progress with employees; it’ll motivate them to stick with new behaviors. Focus on fixing the needle mover use cases to build internal and external credibility for the initiative. As employees see the results and that their jobs are more fun, and more rewarding, it’ll motivate them to be more open-minded about change and willing to tackle more complex customer experience use cases. Employees are crucial to taking customer experience to the next level. First published in B2Community

95% Agree: Customer Experience Is Key to Unlocking Growth

The challenge of sustained top-line growth is not a unique phenomenon of the 21st and 20th centuries. Revenue growth has been top of mind for every business since the dawn of trading over 150,000 years ago. What sets today apart from the 1900s is the increasing pace of change in customer preferences, economic cycles, product lifecycles, business models, and modes of communication.  Accelerating change is fueled by growing volumes, transparency, and accessibility to information. For most of the 20th century, personal relationships were the foundation of B2B business. Information flows were slower, not as robust, and often available only to organizational leaders. Contrast that to today, where a college intern can access almost as much data as a company CEO. And have about as much influence, albeit in different circles. Today, information velocity and volume coupled with global business volatility shines a spotlight on outdated business practices. One practice in today’s spotlight is how companies plan and manage their go-to-market strategies. Done well, top-line growth from new and repeat business is healthy. Yet, 78 percent of the 2,400+ sales and marketing professionals polled in LeanData’s 2019 State of Revenue Operations Study said that consistent revenue growth is a challenge for their B2B organizations. The underlying reasons unpack like a Russian stacking doll – sales and marketing misalignment, siloed data and teams, sales productivity and turnover, low campaign conversion, customer churn, and employee frustration. Ironically, part of the solution is the very catalyst that surfaced the problem – data. With ubiquitous access to information, B2B buying teams took control of their journeys over a decade ago. No longer relying on vendors or traditional influencers for data, advice, and access to experts, buying teams often know more about solutions, how they compare, and ROI than a vendor’s sales and marketing teams. And yet, thousands polled in LeanData’s survey said data was the least-aligned area in their organizations’ revenue engine. If growth is a challenge, what is the solution? Almost universally, those polled said fixing B2B’s broken buyer journey is critical for revenue growth. Organizations are being forced, often kicking and screaming, to compete on customer experience instead of the traditional 4Ps of price, product, promotion, and place. Ninety-five percent of study respondents responded that delivering consistent and seamless customer experience across the entire customer lifecycle is a critical competitive differentiator and revenue driver. 2020 is the era of customer experience. Successfully competing on customer experiences requires data. That means tearing down silos and aligning sales, marketing, and customer service/success data and processes to deliver customer expectations, and then institutionalize new practices with technology like RevOps. Alongside industry analyst firm SiriusDecisions, LeanData helped coin the term “RevOps” or Revenue Operations for a new go-to-market structure — which unites the disparate operations teams supporting sales, marketing, and customer success into one holistic function singularly focused on how to increase growth and performance across the entire revenue chain. While LeanData and industry analysts talk in the language of “conversion of prospects into customers and maximize customer lifetime value,” RevOps is a mechanism to align organizations outward to the customer based on a single source of truth (data) and clear interaction ownership, cross-functionally. One study respondent described their internal alignment results as, “Today we plan from lead to end-of-customer lifecycle and are factoring in those numbers towards our growth. In the past, under a pre-RevOps mindset, this simply did not occur.” Eighty-four percent of study respondents agreed that sales, marketing, and customer success share ownership for revenue growth. Having advised over a hundred B2B C-Suites and marketers, I’m not surprised that 40 percent of the same respondents said these functions aren’t optimally aligned within their organization to maximize revenue-growth potential. Data inaccuracy, lack of detailed customer knowledge, absence of a common shared language, and incomplete customer micro-moment mapping to business processes coupled with internal power struggles are common barriers. The study found that within the over 2,400 respondents, the least-aligned aspect is data with the lowest average score of 5.7 out of 10. Other significant adoption challenges include culture, resources, organizational complexity, organizational maturity, and leadership support. In my many North American and European change management initiatives - success comes down to people. Unless people see a personal benefit, long-term change will be fleeting. My advice is to understand, without judgment, what is in each team member’s heart and mind. What is their motivation for change? Every person is different. As RevOps gains momentum in the wake of many failed prior approaches to silo-busting and getting everyone to stay on the same page, keep these five steps in mind as you plan your implementation:

  1. Widely and repeatedly socialize a well-articulated RevOps vision that gives each team member a clear understanding of the real meaning their work has.
  2. Widely share detailed customer journey maps that show aligned business process flows to help employees understand who does what, when, and why.
  3. Implement accountability to reinforce commitment across all levels of the organization.
  4. Transparently share metrics to help team members understand cause and effect.
  5. Have a milestone-based plan and encourage team members to share suggestions, ideas, and feedback.
The more people feel heard, involved, and part of the process, the greater the impact your RevOps will have on revenue and customers. First published in Medium

Do You Understand Your Customer?

Customer Experience (CX) is a proven path to sustained growth and profitability. It makes sense – give customers and buying teams what they value, when and in the format they want it. Yet, operationalizing this simple concept continues to vex organizations. While adoption has been slow, we’re finally heralding in the year of Customer Experience. We’re at a critical point in the evolution of customer experience. CGS’ annual report “A Look Ahead: Business Process Outsourcing Trends in 2020”, found that companies of all sizes have as their top 2020 priorities improving customer experience and cost-effective operations. Organizations realize the time for talk is over, and they need to ‘walk the walk.’ A prime catalyst is that prospects are quick to discern brands that do not compete on customer experience. Those brands are eliminated early on in purchase and renewal cycles. At the core of CX adoption are two issues. The first is that customer experience requires a mind shift from viewing it as a tactic to embracing the discipline as a business strategy that touches every corner of the organization. The second is gaining an actionable, current “outside-in” understanding of the customer – the “hows” and “whys” of their actions and expectations. The study found five trends prevalent across company sizes and over 30 industries:
  • Focus on customers and costs
  • Harden data security
  • Strengthen in-house customer care and technical support core competencies
  • Manage IT infrastructure change
  • Shift technology investments
At heart is a growing focus to understand customers and the experiences they value. Companies are figuring out that customers reward brands that engage them on their terms. That means understanding how various types of customers define value along with when, how, and why they want brands to interact with them. As I’ve written about for a decade, the customer owns defining the journey, not the brand. It is the brand’s responsibility to align their strategy, people, process, and technologies to the customer’s expectations. Do that, and sustained growth is yours. While it might seem counter-intuitive, business process outsourcing plays a more significant role in customer experience than just cost savings. The study found that 48 percent of companies, of all sizes, have as their top strategic outsourcing the goal to ‘provide better customer experience.’ That goal cascades down the organization and is reflected in the objectives of departments that use outsourcing. For example, the primary goal of customer service and operations departments is to provide a better customer experience. For Finance, it is process standardization to improve efficiency and consistent delivery. IT departments rely on outsourcers to help them stay current on technology to meet business goals. While every company’s needs are different, BPO providers bring expertise and resources essential to leveraging automation in customer interactions, hardening customer data security and compliance, and CX best practices from other industries. Technologies like chatbots, virtual assistants, RPA, analytics, immersive training, real-time automated coaching, and artificial intelligence are table stakes for successful CX. Yet the technology choices available can be overwhelming. What sounds good on paper or in a demo can, in reality, be challenging to integrate into a company’s enterprise ecosystem. Knowing when and how to fit new technologies into your customer engagement strategy is one area where BPO can make a big difference. The experience of serving multiple clients across numerous industries enables BPO vendors to lead as well as teach best practices on how to satisfy customers and meet business goals. Just as customers expect more from the brands they do business with, so too are companies demanding more from their BPO partners. As CX continues to top the list of strategic imperatives, companies are increasingly looking to their outsourcing partners for help beyond traditional services by filling an internal resource or skill gaps. Over 50 percent of study respondents said they look to their BPO partners for help in customer experience transformation, customer journey mapping, and implementing new supporting systems. Selecting the right BPO partner is more than finding the right capabilities match – it’s about establishing a trusted, long-term relationship. At stake is the future of the customer – and your business. The study found that companies are evaluating outsourcing partners based on how they align with the company’s vision, goals, and culture. That is in addition to a demonstrable track record of delivering ROI in the form of improved efficiencies and lower costs. Evaluating how outsourcers manage their own business is increasingly part of the selection process. How do they onboard new employees, conduct training, enforce business policies, communicate internally, and govern their business are just a few due diligence areas. Relationship ‘fit’ cannot be overstated – it is a significant determining factor in the success of the outsourcing partnership and the results realized, especially when it comes to CX goals. The key to realizing the top and bottom-line benefits of customer experience is to align your culture, strategy, and processes outward to customer journeys then institutionalize new practices, processes, and behaviors with automation technology. While some brands still stubbornly perceive customer experience as a tactic, a marketing campaign, or a new label for the customer support function, increasingly companies embrace it as a mindset, a business strategy, and discipline that the entire organization must master. It all starts by understanding your customers, through their eyes, in detail. BPO outsourcers can be valuable, trusted partners to gaining and operationalizing that understanding so you can use customer experience as a brand differentiator.