Across three decades of my involvement in customer projects, I have developed some reliable rules-of-thumb for what is likely to succeed, what is going to be harder than it needs to be and what is doomed to fail.

Frustratingly, hundreds, if not thousands of important marketing, sales, service, field service and other digital initiatives kick-off every year without some of the crucially important basics in place, making it difficult to achieve stakeholder outcomes. As a result, money is wasted and reputations are damaged.

So, in case you are planning something that you expect will make a difference to your customer (whether consumer, business customer or citizen) and your people, here are seven vital activities that have helped others succeed:


Seven success factors for customer transformations

  1. Clear vision and objectives.

What is the project really for?

Does it primarily aim to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty?

Or is it to sell more or reduce cost-to-serve?

Are you seeking to reduce complaints and service recovery costs?

Are you fixing processes, reducing friction or increasing automation?

Will the project deliver something your customers truly value or is this more about your people?

Is it a ‘me too’, catch-up initiative or something that will truly differentiate your brand and help fulfil your vision.

Knowing what the project is designed to achieve and then clearly communicating the project vision prevents misunderstandings and can contribute to a strong team ethos. It can also make it easier to recruit and motivate people.

Communication at the outset should, at the same time, highlight the potential for in-flight course correction; this should be understood by all as good practise rather than failure.


  1. A strong business case

How many times have transformation projects been saddled with the “3x ROI” nonsense that someone in sales mode has promised?  It sounds good and may even have helped to get the project over the line but these sales promises are seldom anywhere close to deliverable, setting unrealistic expectations against which individuals are measured.

What is needed is a considered, benchmarked, validated, triangulated view of what could genuinely be delivered, embedded and proven. This takes significant effort across a team of people.

Financial benefits only count when revenues and/oror cost lines have measurably changed, as a genuine result of project actions. This is often several reporting periods later than you expect.

Some operational and customer benefits are easier to track than others (a good example being complaints) but tracking improvements in sentiment or loyalty via surveys and speech/text analytics can take many months.

In a dynamic trading environment, it is vital to have a good baseline and understanding of business cycles and drivers. Ideally, baselines should be established as far before the project commences as possible.


  1. Plan and mobilise the best team

Whether provided by in-house people, consultants, contractors or vendors, the skills required to make sustainable change happen vary through the lifecycle of the project. As such, building a team is never a ‘once and done’. Expect to stand up and stand down expertise as required.

It takes experience and expertise to build the right team and get them to do the right things right at the right time, while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.

The plan must be kept up to date with a forward view of resourcing and subject-matter expertise requirements especially in an agile or dynamic environment.

The importance of assembling a high quality team cannot be over-emphasised. From project concept to design, development to testing and deployment to how changes are embedded, your team are constantly making crucial decisions.

In a busy organisation, it is often hard to find the right skills at the right time. Successful project leaders (and leaders of successful projects) spend a lot of their time designing and recruiting the team with the right capabilities.


  1. The right leaders and stakeholders

In addition to great leaders, stakeholder representation is a key driver of success. Stakeholders include customers (and those with the insight to agitate for customers) business leaders, knowledgeable operational colleagues and supporting players.

The mix needs to including supporters, cynics and critics together with people who understand the wider strategy and can effectively ‘scan the horizon’ so that you can validate technology choices and partnering decisions.

The relationships and interplay between the project and those overseeing it is crucial.  The balance of support and challenge; how course corrections (which are inevitable) and tensions (also inevitable) are handled; what is taken on trust and what is subject to a more forensic review make a big difference.


  1. Find the balance between tech, ops, process, people and customer deliverables

Get this right and you will innovate and deliver genuine change built on solid foundations.

Many of us have experienced ‘point’ projects, where a change is made (such as a process change or a new app feature) that itself appears functional, yet it isn’t joined up with what’s required from a technology or data or skills perspective. Such activity hardly ever works and even if they do make an impact, it never lasts.

Likewise, how many times have we seen an initiative that makes things more efficient for the business but makes life more difficult for the customer. Again, in a world where switching brands is easier than ever, this is unlikely to deliver positive outcomes in the long run.

This doesn’t mean that every change needs to be applied to the ‘whole stack’.  Sometimes, Ops and behavioural change can move faster than tech or process change (especially in a regulated environment). It can therefore be really useful to use incremental delivery in these areas to build confidence and momentum, while more complex change follows-on. It is a neat trick if simpler, early wins also help to fund the bigger stuff… so long as they work for customers and colleagues.


  1. Start small and iterate

Every advisor will tell you this, but few organisations actually do it well.

‘Small’ can mean the change is attached to a single product, or to a subset of customers or to a defined set of features, ring-fenced to allow test-and-learn.

However, even a small-scale change needs to be carefully defined as it may have wider impacts across the business and its supply chain.

A small-scale change still needs to meet the quality expectations of the customers (and maybe the regulator), so maybe ‘start small and iterate with a clear view of how to scale’ might be a better strategy.

While full-scale agile delivery might be a step too far for some businesses and their leaders, adopting incremental delivery versus big-bang releases and building flexible, multi-disciplinary teams will add innovation and pace to most projects.


  1. Measure and adapt continuously

Listening, piloting, testing, measuring impacts (positive and negative) and learning from customers, colleagues and competitors are important contributors to success.

Achieving the desired customer outcomes can sometimes be difficult and unpredictable – especially if you don’t interact with them regularly.  Don’t be afraid to course-correct (it isn’t a sign of failure) when circumstances change and expect to re-plan regularly… and don’t forget to keep updating the business case.


There are, of course, many more than seven success factors. The seven recommendations above are based on many years of experience both good and bad, embracing insights from both clients and advisors.

Thinking about these seven factors at the outset can definitely make a positive difference.

Depending on your starting point, some may be higher impact than others but ‘plan and mobilise the best team’ always figures in the top three.

As with other articles in this series, we welcome comments, suggestions and personal experiences.