Thanks to all who responded to our recent post focusing on Digital Transformation nightmares.  We received an avalanche of anecdotes and points of view from colleagues and clients happy to share their experiences. One trend stood out; the lengthiest (and most emotionally charged!) exchanges were those that had impacted our lives as consumers.

It quickly became clear that those ‘front of mind’ digital transformation nightmares mentioned most frequently tended to fall into one of two categories:

  1. issues created as a result of a lack of customer closeness (where perhaps well-intentioned ideas don’t quite match customer requirements); and
  2. issues arising as a result of ‘downstream’ operational limitations (where perhaps digital ambition doesn’t quite align with operational capability).


Here are two stories that we think illustrate these points all too clearly.

In this first narrative a lack of customer closeness pulled the rug from under what on the face of it looks like amazing customer service.

I arranged collection of a faulty iPad. Within 15 minutes a DPD driver was at the door asking for the item. I hadn’t had any time to delete my data, reset it and package it up! I had to turn the driver away but, because the returns process had begun, I had no way of rebooking a new pick-up”

This is a perfect illustration of why customer closeness is needed in addition to customer data! Customer data (such as survey responses) may well indicate ‘99% of customers with a faulty item want a fast pick up’. Customer closeness would tell you that it takes many tablet owners some time to understand and execute what needs to be done ahead of pick up and that ‘fast’ means different things to different people. In this instance genuine customer closeness would have provided the customer with a checklist of what needs to be done ahead of pick up, alongside a choice of pick up times (or drop off locations) over a number of dates.

To illustrate the second category, many colleagues and clients alike mentioned their experience of failed click and collect across any number of high street brands. Together they illustrate the myriad failure points around the last steps in what usually appeared to be sleek multi-channel processes. This story is typical of the many examples offered:

Looking to pick up my coffee machine the week before Christmas at a local supermarket branch, I was directed to the ‘click and collect’ point by a colleague. The click and collect point turned out to be an unmanned pasting table by the warehouse door. It was 7pm in the evening and four other customers had set up camp by the table already. They told me a single colleague was tasked with ‘keeping an eye on the table’ and had duly responded when a queue formed. They had disappeared 10 minutes earlier to attempt to find an order that had (according to her screen) been received into store by someone called ‘John’. She didn’t know anyone called John in the warehouse. It turned into a long evening!’

What was clear from many similar stories was that in many instances the operations teams running frontline activities had been obliged to find a way to make a digital implementation work using whatever solutions they could find. Technology-first solutions had been launched with little understanding of the human and operational impact, causing a chain of customer experience problems from the mildly irritating to the disastrous. The fact that this example happened three years earlier yet was remembered and enthusiastically retold is a sobering reminder that bad customer experiences impact a brand long after the event.

Both challenges are symptomatic of digital transformations that allow technology to dictate planning horizons. Both issues could have been mitigated in advance by planning digital transformations from a systemic point of view, taking the time to understand the human implications of new technology and fully understanding the nature and variety of the operational challenges faced by those who must deliver on corporate promises.

Here at Partners in Change we believe that at the heart of every successful digital transformation is change management excellence.  To help you deliver brilliant outcomes for your customers and colleagues, we have created a Digital Transformation Health Check, designed to ensure that failure points such as these do not get in the way of positive and sustainable transformation.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Richard Hatton if you’d like to talk about your digital transformation challenges – no matter where you are on your change journey.