How community can drive digital transformation



Two problematic areas for today’s organisations are employee engagement and digital transformation.

Although organisations want employees to share knowledge, care about their work, and embrace digital ways of working, they often try to impose these desires on top of the existing culture of work. And attempts to impose culture change from above will always be met with resistance.

The problem is that we have two sets of forces pushing against each other: an outdated, hierarchical view of work based on a 20th century industrial model of organisation, and a ‘socialised’ view of work stemming from a desire to harness the power of online communities and networks.

These two opposing approaches to organisation are fundamentally incompatible, and this is a key reason why many organisations are struggling with digital transformation. Digital provides an entirely new way to approach work, collaboration, and organisation, but if transformation is undertaken with a 20th century industrial mindset then it will not reap the full benefits that digital offers. This is not a new problem, as Cham (2014) notes by referencing the argument made by Marshal McLuhan back in the 1960s:


“If we try to understand digital transformation with an industrial mindset we are ‘walking backwards into the future”


In the hyperconnected 21st century, we should be designing organisations around community, not work. Millenials have grown up in a hyperconnected age, they instinctively participate in a wide variety of communities, and they expect the modern workplace to function in the same way as their connected personal existence. So it is no surprise that they often become quickly disengaged when confronted with bureaucratic, hierarchical organisations using outdated technologies that bear little resemblance to the community-oriented tools to which they are accustomed.


How can we design work around community?


If you look at start-ups, community happens automatically. Everyone knows everyone else, and has a good idea what they are working on. There are never enough people to do the work that needs to be done, so everyone has to help each other out on a daily basis. There is a strong sense of shared purpose, and an urgency that binds the team together. Each employee has to make important decisions under pressure, giving them a strong sense of connection to the vision and purpose of the start-up. Autonomy and initiative are essential.

And most of all, people talk to each other all the time. There is almost no hierarchy to quash the inherent creativity of the team. All ideas regarding how to improve the business are welcomed, discussed, adapted and implemented.

The challenge for larger organistions and businesses is how to reimagine their operational model around principles of community. If we designed our organisations around community, not just around work, things could be very different.


“Putting community at the centre of the organisation fundamentally changes the motivation to do work”


Communities develop around a clear purpose, and this purpose is what drives people to engage with the community. Establishing a clear purpose for an organisation (beyond simply making money for shareholders) is therefore a valuable way of tackling the problem of a disengaged workforce. Designing an organisation as a community turns it into a place where people are emotionally engaged, share knowledge instinctively, and collaborate on shared projects with a strong sense of purpose. And in a knowledge economy, these three factors are fundamental to an effective, engaged, and digitally literate workforce.

Digital transformation represents an attempt to harness the innate human desire to share useful information and participate in purposeful communities. But any digital transformation strategy that focuses on platforms instead of people is almost certain to fail – successful transformation is dependent on understanding what motivates people to participate in communities.



2014  Cham, K.L. “”Virtually An Alternative ? The Medium, The Message and The User Experience; Collective Agency in Digital Spaces and Embodied Social Change”, 5th LAEMOS Colloquium on Organization Studies Constructing Alternatives: How can we organize for alternative social, economic, and ecological balance?, Havana, Cuba

This post was co-written with Tony Reeves, Digital Research Lead (Customer Experience), The QoE.

Advocacy has to begin inside organisations

“If the challenges lie within a collective consciousness, so will the answers.”


Is consistent customer experience beyond the reach of large organisations?

Ownership of the consumer relationship and trust is an ever-increasing priority for organisations. As they look to be providers of content as well as delivery, trusted adviser rather than lender, or the consumers’ service provider of choice, customer experience is now a major concern.

At its simplest, each customer experience is a real time emotional reaction to “if” and “how” an issue is resolved or a purchase made, judged against the consumer’s expectation of both the “if” and the “how”.

At its most complex, the experience is established over multiple touch points with interactions via self-service and several different people. So where should organisations concentrate their resources, first time resolution, product quality and value, handling the interactions or managing expectations? All have their merits, supporters and numerous business cases built to promote them.

Expectations are continually revised as today’s information rich consumer interacts with an ever-increasing variety of purchase and service options delivered through low and high-tech channels. Many organisations see their opportunity to influence expectations with marketing and pricing strategies. This is OK for new customers but previous experience will dominate future interactions. Bad experiences of IVR or offshore call centres are good examples.

Overcoming an experience, whether generated by your own organisation or not, can be very difficult and expensive.

Providing consistent resolution, the right product at the right price and the appropriate delivery depends on knowing your customer and aligning your capabilities to deliver to their needs – all affect the way the business design model is constructed and carried through strategy, culture, process and implementation. This takes place against a background of different personalities and their dislikes, compulsions, and passions, which ultimately require variations in approach and response.

The debate initially divides the participants into two opposing camps, “people people” and “process reliant”. Each has a valid but conflicting argument, a complaint due to a bad process can be recovered with good people skills, but how many times can you say no to the customer?

However nicely you say it, in the end it is a bad experience. Inevitably a customer centric organisation with great people skills will provide a superior customer experience at the optimum cost. How much you need from each camp will vary, depending on the product or service, its value, its quality and the customer you are talking to.

It is also important to consider the effects of the experience on an organisation’s own people. All the above is just as relevant to staff satisfaction, turnover and cost. There is also a great deal of evidence to show that advocacy has to start from within.


The clues are within us all


The basic elements of the experience are familiar to everyone. Are they listening? Are they interested in me? Is this fair? Do I trust them? Can this add value for me? How easy is this? Do they like me? Do I like them? Which of these questions will drive satisfaction, advocacy, abandonment or churn, will be determined in many cases by a gut feeling and yes, first impressions do count for a great deal. This is a scientific fact, a basic instinct, but also something with which we can identify as human beings.

Whilst easy to identify, these elements are extremely difficult to measure. The common short term measure is satisfaction and the long term effects are increasingly measured as advocacy. Real time measurements of, for example, empathy, are very effective but are seen by many as too transient to help us guide our businesses. As people we are able to measure, assess against expectations and make judgments in a very short space of time. So, how do we set our expectations and what do we measure?

The key skill is social interaction; the ability to participate in a debate and learn from others’ experiences rather than our own, and collective learning, these are the skills that distinguish us as human beings. Many would argue that the quality of these conversations has a greater influence on our development than our formal education. So conversations with friends and relations promote a consensus on common standards, providing a check on ever growing expectations.

The basics of what we as individuals measure also derive from these interactions. We unconsciously assess honesty, education, class and the health of everyone we meet within only a few seconds. We are judging how they look, (colours, neatness, coordination) how they move (agility, stature, body language) and how they sound (volume, tone variations) and how they introduce themselves, above all we are looking for consistency. A very scruffy, highly energetic and meekly spoken individual will not normally generate trust when he introduces himself as Captain John Smith since it falls outside the standards we would expect from our accumulated experiences. To change this initial opinion he will need to demonstrate a consistent message over many meetings.

The same is true for every organisation at each touch point with every customer, an impossible task without common expectations and personality traits. The message seems to be that we need to work with, not against, our instincts.


So every organisation contains the answer


Identifying when and how large organisations are influencing these feelings is of course a huge challenge – except that any one of its employees could tell you exactly how they “feel” about their own and a whole host of other companies during conversations with friends and relations. In most cases their view will be balanced by the group consensus. If the conversation develops into a debate, it has a good chance of producing ideas on how to enhance the experience. These will range from the fanciful to simple practical solutions. We can all bear witness to the censure and creativeness of the group dynamic.

If this group of friends were all actively engaged in the day-to-day delivery of services and products in a range of organisations, it would have the ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the ”if” and “how”, balance “people” and “process”, challenge the internal view – stimulating solutions that individuals or groups from one organisation could not begin to conceive.

How often do we win an argument on “this feels right”? We need comparisons with other experiences and a logical argument built on examples of good and bad practice.

Establishing such groups, representing a cross section of industries, is, I believe, the key to unlocking the power of a great customer experience. Every individual will be able to use the collective knowledge and experience to help them find answers to current and future customer experience challenges – and win approval for implementation.

The opportunity to be part of a group, not just to listen or talk, but to engage and challenge the collective view, benefit from the collective learning and be stimulated by its creativity is also vital to the implementation of the delivery of a consistent experience. Organisations are as individual as the people they contain, the customers they serve, and the experiences they generate. If the challenges lie within a collective consciousness, so will the answers.

We don’t talk anymore


Cliff Richard didn’t have a smartphone when he wrote his Number 1 hit.

But ‘we don’t talk anymore’ is a problem that is affecting both our social and professional lives. In an age where the quantity of communication has expanded exponentially, it’s funny how we spend less time talking with each other. We even spend more time on our devices than we do sleeping.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone and I couldn’t live without it. But I increasingly find myself working with businesses who think they are dealing with an issue, when in fact they haven’t established the full picture because they haven’t spoken to the right people.

This is a costly problem and wastes both time and money.

In the digital age it is easy to think that we are communicating more effectively. We have more data to inform decision-making than ever before, and more tools to crunch the data than we could wish for. But we also need to identify and talk to the right people to contextualise the data with real experiences.

An evolving response

The needs and experiences of customers, employees and partners are perpetually evolving. An effective response is only possible if a business knows what is actually happening, not what it wants to believe is happening.

Talking with the right people gives us a real-world, real-time assessment of a given problem or situation.

While the signposts to the solution will exist in the data, externalising the needs and experiences of the individuals involved will reveal what actually happens. And accessing these experiences is only possible by identifying and bringing together relevant people from across a business.

Once these valuable experiences have been brought to light, they need to be examined in a non-judgmental manner. This is where perpetual thinking groups can help, as they remove politics and ego to create a constructive, trusting environment in which experiences can be analysed. By encouraging participants to share and reflect on their personal experiences, perpetual thinking groups enable businesses to get to the root cause of a given problem.

Digital tools can trick us into thinking that we’re communicating effectively and efficiently. But in an increasingly digital environment, spending time talking with the people involved in the delivery of a product or process to understand their needs and experiences is more important than ever.

Although Cliff’s ‘We don’t talk anymore’ may have been written about a disintegrating relationship, it’s a problem that is just as applicable to the modern business environment. But if we bring the right people together in the right environment, we can obtain an informed understanding of the real-world issues that are affecting experiences across a business, its customers and its partners.

And that is something worth talking about.


Should we be educating our customers?


To what extent should a business attempt to educate its customers?

Historically, many businesses have taken it upon themselves to try and educate their customers about their products and services. From pensions to paracetamol, most products come with some form of impenetrable instruction manual that customers are expected to read in order to understand what they have purchased.

Attempts to educate customers often stem from a desire to minimise complaints and bad press by managing their expectations. Sometimes a business needs to educate customers about why their request might not be in their best interest – particularly in an increasingly high tech environment. Those 100-page policy documents might make sense to the underwriters, but they will mean very little to the customer who needs a 1-page summary in jargon-free language.


We don’t need no education

But do these attempts to educate customers work in an era where the customer resorts to an internet search as soon as they have a problem or query? Prior to the Internet (remember that?), the business was the trusted source of knowledge. But the speed at which knowledge is now created and shared makes it increasingly difficult for a business to manage its knowledge effectively.

The employee responsible for doing the educating may themselves never have experienced the problem that a customer is facing, leading to a perceived lack of authenticity. And, rightly or wrongly, the customer often believes that the best person to ask for advice is another customer rather than a representative of the company.

The problem of educating customers is just as difficult for B-2-B as for B-2-C. For example, business A may procure a new product from business B, but there is a significant danger that the former can overload the latter with too much training and documentation. However, if business A holds back on educating business B about the full range of options afforded by its new purchase, it may be accused of not delivering value for money.

Changes made by third-parties also cause a headache, as Facebook’s decision to start auto-playing videos demonstrated. When a large number of mobile customers found they were suddenly consuming more of their data allowance, they accused their mobile providers of over-charging them. And in some cases, it was the customers who first informed the mobile operators of the problem – the customers were ‘educating’ the business.

So do businesses have a responsibility to push information to customers to inform them of such changes? Should customers have to opt in to or opt out of these ‘helpful’, paternalistic communications?


Who should be educating whom?

In a hyperconnected era, the flow of information between company and customer is dynamic. Knowledge is no longer the exclusive possession of the company: the customer can – and should – educate the company just as much as the company educates the customer.

How? This mutually beneficial relationship can be developed by making customer communities as integral to a business as the board, the finance department, and the sales team. Customer communities and forums are a largely untapped resource, and businesses should be employing more open business models to co-evolve with their customer communities – incorporating their feedback and insights into both problem-solving and product development.

For what purpose? The answer is: to build confidence. We attempt to educate customers to give them the confidence to make better decisions about our products and services. Our customers can do the same for us – their feedback gives the company the confidence that everything is aligned and working as it should be.

The networked era is changing the role of the organisation from an ‘all-knowing parent’ to a ‘trusted advisor’. Trust and confidence are increasingly integral to brand value, and there is great value for organisations in making this transition. But navigating this change requires businesses to treat customers as adults, and be prepared to demonstrate greater trust, openness and authenticity.

Our customers can help to educate us and are prepared to do so, but only if we are prepared to listen and respond with the same objective: to increase understanding and build confidence.

Source : The QoE discussions November 2016 ‘Should we be educating our customers?’

Only customer-obsessed companies can survive disruption

Empowered customers are disrupting every industry; competitive barriers like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery can’t save you. In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.

The successful companies will be customer-obsessed, like IBM and Executives in customer-obsessed companies must pull budget dollars from areas that traditionally created dominance…

  • brand advertising
  • distribution lockup
  • mergers for scale, and
  • supplier relationships

…and invest in four priority areas:

  1. real-time customer intelligence
  2. customer experience and customer service
  3. sales channels that deliver customer intelligence, and
  4. useful content and interactive marketing.

Those that master the customer data flow and improve frontline customer staff will have the edge.

From The QoE, January 2013, ‘Competitive Strategy in the Age of the Customer’

Positive energy = profit


What do all successful customer-focused organisations possess?

  • Drive
  • Enthusiasm
  • Focus
  • Willingness

You can feel it so its tangible.

What do you measure? Positive energy.

Why Energy?

Definition:  a person’s spirit and vigour

Synonyms:  activity, animation, application, ardour, birr, dash, drive, effectiveness, efficacy, endurance, enterprise, exertion, fire, force, forcefulness, fortitude, get up and go, hardihood, ini9a9ve, intensity, juice, life, liveliness, might, moxie, muscle, cooperativeness, pep, pluck, potency, power, punch, spirit, spontaneity, stamina, steam, strength, toughness, tuck, vehemence, verve, vim, virility, vitality, vivacity, zeal, zest, zing, zip

Antonyms:   idleness, inactivity, laziness, lethargy, tiredness

  • Energy can be a positive or a negative force
  • Its direction is influenced by other people, process and technology
  • Positive energy is the essential element of every successful organisation

Energy generators in people:

  • Personal belief ‐ alignment to values, purpose and behaviours
  • Personal development – knowledge, understanding and cultural
  • Empowerment -­‐ the ability to act on your own thoughts and decisions
  • Ability to influence – trusted adviser, seeing ac9ons that result form your input
  • Autonomy – self-activation, successfully rising to challenges
  • Pride – reflective satisfation perpetuates confidence and ability
  • Belonging to groups or communities -­‐ sharing experience, knowledge and love
  • Being part of something that is recognised as good quality, creative and valued
  • Inspirational and relevant leadership
  • Behaviours of those around you

Source of energy can be split into three:

  • Personal
  • Projected from people around you
  • Projected by the organisation

Can we identify energy…

  • Drainers (Sinks)
  • Capacitors
  • Generators
  • Hotspots
  • Magnets
  • Wasted energy
  • Base line for sustainability
  • Time-sensitive peaks and troughs
  • Net energy score
  • Economic value of energy

Net energy score: How much an individual / group / organisation stimulates, minus how much they drain from others

Positive energy = profit

From The QoE, March 2012, ‘Employee Experience Proof of Concept Project’