The Essential Playbook for Digital Transformation

Digital technology has transformed our lives. It has changed the way we talk to family and friends, listen to music, make appointments – and buy from businesses.

To keep up with customer and employee expectations and competitors, businesses too need to evolve, or risk getting left behind.

This evolutionary process is known as digital transformation. While it looks different for every company, digital transformation can refer to any of the following:

  • Digitizing internal processes
  • Implementing technology to bridge different customer touchpoints
  • Leveraging tools to enable better collaboration between colleagues and teams
  • Supplementing current products and services with digital offerings

Sadly, 70% of digital transformations fail . To prevent your company from becoming a part of this depressing statistic, we’ve put together some best practices with insights from digital transformation leaders to speed up your learning curve.

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Create a clear roadmap
  3. Assign a dedicated role/team
  4. Get buy-in from senior management
  5. Align company culture
  6. Upskill employees
  7. Digitize internal processes
  8. Upgrade your internal communication
  9. Focus on customer experience
  10. Make data privacy a priority
  11. Keep end users in the loop

Set clear goals

Digital transformation can mean different things to different people: to some people, it may mean going paperless; others may think in terms of innovation and competitiveness.

That’s why it’s important to consider what digital transformation means to your company.

The “why” of your organization’s digital transformation might be around improving customer experience, reducing friction, increasing productivity, or elevating profitability, for example. Or, if it’s an aspirational statement, it might revolve around becoming the absolute best to do business with, utilizing enabling digital technologies that were unavailable years ago.

Jay Ferro, CIO Quikrete

Create a clear roadmap

Having a clear roadmap provides a structured way to move through digital transformation. Without a plan and a process, you may be tempted to change everything at once, which can be costly and risky.

What the roadmap will look like for your business will depend on your business; however, here are some components to consider:

  • Culture and employee enablement: implementing tools to enable employees to work more flexibly and collaboratively
  • Process digitization: digitizing manual tasks and processes to increase efficiency and free up time for more strategic / creative work
  • Customer experience: integrating digital channels into the customer journey to improve the customer experience
  • Value proposition: adding digital options to current offerings or digitizing the business model altogether. Nike, for example, augments its value proposition (the best quality shoes for athletes and runners) with Nike Run Club , a running app, designed to help you run better.

Assign a dedicated role/team

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Whether at an all-hands meeting, in a company-wide memo or in a blog post, you’ll need someone to reinforce your digital transformation vision and strategy to your employees. More importantly, this person will be driving change forwards and leading digital transformation initiatives.

This role often falls to the Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, or Chief Digital (Transformation) Officer.

But, it could also be a team of people. For instance, to drive its digital transformation strategy, Daimler created a cultural and change program , within which ambassadors from different business units were appointed to share knowledge, and embed its digital transformation strategy into the organization, at all levels.

Communicating the purpose and ensuring it’s part of our core organizational value set is necessary to mobilize Daimler people.

Sabine Scheunert , VP Digital & IT Sales at Daimler

Get buy-in from senior management

Change in any organization starts from the top. If senior leaders are not on board with your efforts, your digital transformation will likely be unsuccessful.

Getting buy-in from senior leaders from the onset means that your digital transformation will be less likely to be derailed or delayed by obstacles or resistance.

These might come from security, fraud, compliance or legal teams, but when the senior leadership team is on board, you can work collaboratively to address these as soon as they arise.

Align company culture

cartoon of dna-polymerase

Employee resistance is one of the main barriers to transformation . This is not surprising. As humans, we’re creatures of habit and develop a comfort zone around doing things a certain way.

In the workplace, people feel threatened by change because they fear that their role or skills are no longer required. With this in mind, here are a few ways in which you can reassure employees and bring them on board:

Involve employees

As much as possible, it’s a good idea to involve employees from the beginning so that they have a sense of what to expect. This could mean sending out a detailed overview to each team, indicating how their processes and ways of working will be impacted.

We knew that we could not have a communication and change plan based merely on sending a daily email saying: ‘we are on a digital journey.’ We needed to guide people through the different phases of change.

Saskia Steinacker , Lead Digital Transformation at Bayer

At Bayer, they went further by introducing an initiative where employees were rewarded for ideas that improved customer service or made operations more efficient. Their “Digital Innovation Award” helped to get employees excited about digital transformation and recognized individuals who went the extra mile for this project.

Encourage collaboration

As part of your digital transformation, you’ll need people to work in cross-functional teams to ensure that information doesn’t remain in silos.

For instance, marketing and sales teams work closely together to ensure that they have the same customer insights. Customer service teams ideally work with product development teams to act on customer pain points, feedback and suggestions.

To support this collaboration, you might set up open plan working spaces to remove barriers to communication or assign dedicated areas as meeting or ideation zones. Implementing collaboration tools such as Slack , Asana or JIRA also go a long way towards facilitating open conversations.

Dedicate time for innovation

cartoon of two brains and a chat bubble

Digital transformation is not just about adopting new technology, it’s also about embracing change. This can be done by encouraging employees to share ideas in meetings, standups or 1:1s or through forums in e.g. Asana , as we do at Userlike.

But, “Having sporadic ideas every so often is not enough,” argues John Castleman, CEO of digital consultancy Mobiquity . “The key that leads to true transformation is having a constant churn of ideas that will help companies identify solutions.”

This is why Google introduced the 20% Project concept, an initiative where employees were encouraged to spend 20% of their working time on "side projects". Over the years, the project has enabled the creation of several key services, which are around today, such as Gmail and Adsense.

While the project has since been discontinued, other companies have followed suit and reaped similar benefits. For example, as part of “20% time”, Atlassian also introduced "Ship It’"day , where employees are challenged with a task to create any product and then ship this item within 24 hours. From this initiative, successful creations such as JIRA Service Desk have emerged, proving that dedicated time for innovation pays off.

Promote a culture of knowledge-sharing

In the digital economy, people are changing their jobs at a rapid rate — and taking their knowledge with them. Which means companies need to find ways to capture that knowledge and share it across the organization.

While some employees will be digitally-minded, others won’t be. By encouraging knowledge-sharing across your company, you can take advantage of the knowledge capital and shorten learning curves with new technology.

This could take place through formal processes such as job-shadowing, mentoring or documenting workflows, processes and must-know information. This information is then shared via an internal knowledge base.

image of people in a meeting

But it’s also important to create informal opportunities for knowledge-sharing. Employees often share ideas and concerns with each other on internal communication channels. Giving employees an outlet for these ideas promotes open dialogue throughout the company and improves employee engagement.

While you could set up channels on internal communication channels, there are specific tools available for gathering employee feedback such as 15Five , OfficeVibe or Culture Amp .

Upskill employees

For your digital transformation to be successful, you’ll likely need a mix of talents : engineers that understand programming languages, product and marketing managers who can anticipate what customers want, data analysts who can leverage the data generated.

More importantly, you'll also need someone well-versed in digital security to avoid leaving your business vulnerable to data breaches and theft.

New hires

As a traditional business, you may struggle to appeal to digital talents as you’ll be competing with startups, which are by nature, "digital-first".

cartoon of the superman logo with a H

So, how can you attract and retain the best digital talent for your company? For a start, you’ll likely need to reward high skills levels with high compensation. But, money needn't be the only driving force.

According to a poll by Korn Ferry of nearly 5,000 professionals, the main reason people leave an organization is boredom. To give them a reason to stay, you’ll need to offer growth opportunities. Asos’ commitment to the employee learning and development experience is such that they’ve dedicated an entire section of their careers website to it .

Another factor to consider is that people want to feel important. So, framing their hiring as an opportunity for them to help the company go through a digital transformation can be attractive.

Existing employees

To address digital skill gaps, it pays to reskill existing employees so that they can adapt to the changing business environment.

Investing in employees’ learning also helps with employee retention as you’re showing them that they matter to your business and that you see their potential.

Upskilling your employees by offering an education budget is probably the easiest place to start. You can find plenty of free content online, but offering a budget gives your access to quality content - books, courses, conferences, etc.

For on-the-job training, you could create a highly customized learning plan for each employee and offer appropriate training within a Learning Management System (LMS) such as TalentLMS . That way, employees can learn at their own pace and you can monitor their progress.

screenshot of talentlms in action

Digitize internal processes

Digitalization requires a faster pace of working. New tools empower employees to work more efficiently and collaboratively, so that they have more bandwidth for creative work, to deliver exceptional customer service, and so forth.

While any business process can be automated, if a process meets any of the following criteria, it’s likely a good candidate for automation :

  • High-volume of tasks
  • Multiple people required to execute tasks
  • Time-sensitive nature
  • Significant impact on other processes and systems
  • Need for compliance and audit trails

With this in mind, here are some processes that are commonly automated in businesses:

HR processes : Hiring, onboarding and keeping employee records up-to-date are just some of the processes that can be automated to cut out unnecessary paperwork through tools like WorkDay , Zoho People and BambooHR .

Accounting : Financial processes will likely always require some sort of human input, whether at the review or approval stage. Eliminating data entry steps where possible avoids costly mistakes: Quickbooks , Freshbooks , Sage .

Data analysis : Many companies use different databases and/or spreadsheets to manage data. These approaches are not only labor-intensive but also error-prone. Data analytics tools ( Power BI , Qlik ) take out the guesswork and improve accuracy and efficiency.

Sales/CRM : Activities like call logging, filing, and handoffs to different teams are part and parcel of sales and lead generation. However, eliminating manual effort through CRM tools ( Salesforce , PipeDrive ) frees up your sales teams to focus on building customer relationships.

Upgrade your internal communication

In today’s workplace, employees need to be able to access data and resources, at all times, no matter whether they’re working remotely or working from the office.

By moving away from traditional channels that support only one-way communication (company-wide emails) and towards two-way messaging platforms ( Slack , Teams ), you can make sure employees are kept in the loop on important company announcements and updates.

But for managing projects, specific project/task management tools such as Asana , or JIRA are more efficient. This is because projects have lots of moving parts and these tools are specifically designed to keep track of all the different elements as well as the people working on them.

Focus on customer experience

cartoon of a radio

In this digital age, customers want everything yesterday . Yet, time and time again, speed shows up in studies as one of the most common customer service frustrations . Long waiting lines, endless phone trees, audio harassment — all contribute to a frustrating experience.

Communication channels such as website chat and mobile messaging counteract some of these frustrations. As everyone’s messaging all the time, it’s more convenient to contact a business via, say, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, than it is to email or call.

In a digital environment, online customers are looking for quick answers to their questions. That’s why live chat is a popular choice with many customers . With live chat, you can help customers at the source of problems. As it lives on your website, you can also spot issues and reach out to customers before they contact you.

However, customer experience isn’t limited to communication channels. It can also involve the integration of mobile apps or Augmented Reality (AR) at different touchpoints in the customer journey so that customers have the information they need at their fingertips.

IKEA , for instance, offers an augmented reality tool that allows users to visualize how furniture will look in their own home. This helps the customers to try out different options before they make a purchase, saving trips to the store and potential refunds.

Today, 80% of all customer journeys start online, this highlights the importance of digital to build relationships with both new as well as existing customers.

Barbara Martin Coppola , Chief Digital Officer at IKEA

Make data privacy a priority

Digital transformation means the generation of huge amounts of data, and that is not without its risks.

In a 2018 study , Accenture found that 83% of customers are willing to share their data, but only in the belief that companies will protect their privacy and put that data to good use.

For businesses to stay on the right side of the law (the GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the US) and to retain the trust of customers, they need to implement documentation processes and procedures governing the data’s collection, storage, and use.

The good news is there are a number of measures businesses can take to safeguard data as outlined by the Harvard Business Review .

Being mindful of how vendors and partners use data

Rushing into partnerships with third-party vendors opens up opportunities for cybercriminals. A better approach is to assess the data privacy risk and check whether their data privacy policies align with yours. Asking them to sign privacy-compliant non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) is a good idea to protect your customers’ data.

Conduct a data impact assessment

An impact assessment is in some cases required by the GDPR. This is a process that helps you identify and minimize the data protection risks of a project. Creating a paper trail ensures that you’re covered in the event of privacy breaches. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office provides a data impact assessment checklist , which can be used whether you’re based there or not.

Make your privacy policies understandable

cartoon of a contract

Privacy policies tend to be full of legal jargon, which most people find hard to get to grips with. As a result, most people don’t read them either. This leaves them open to interpretation. Writing your privacy policies in a language that’s easy to understand builds trust with your customers and assures them you’re going to take care of their data.

Appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO)

Whatever your business size, centralizing responsibility for data privacy to a Data Protection Officer (DPO) ensures that data doesn’t exist in disparate locations and won’t fall into the wrong hands.

Not only will a DPO oversee the company’s data governance strategy, but also make sure that all employees get the training they need to comply with data privacy policies such as the GDPR and the aforementioned California Consumer Privacy Act.

Keep end users in the loop

Digital transformation is not so much about technology as it is about the end users, be they customers or employees. Ultimately, they are the ones affected by any changes you make to your processes and communication channels. By continuously monitoring sentiment through surveys, focus groups, interviews and informal feedback, you’ll know whether you’re on the right track.

Looking for digital customer channels?

At Userlike , we get many product requests from companies that are looking to offer their customers communication channels that connect with their digital lifestyles.

When customers are on your website, you can use Userlike to reach them through a well-designed website chat box – allowing you to answer quick questions that could otherwise get in the way of a sale.

But 99% of the time, your customers aren't on your website. To reach them in a modern and convenient way, you can connect Userlike to your customers' favorite messaging channels: WhatsApp, Messenger, SMS, Threema, etc.

images showing the live chat software Userlike and Userlikes Message Center

If you're curious about exploring the power of messaging for your customer relationships, just sign up for a free trial here.