The future of customer experience and how digital transformation is as much a human problem as it is a technology problem – Interview with Brian Solis


Today’s interview is with Brian Solis, Principal Analyst and Futurist at Altimeter, a Prophet Company. Prophet is a consultancy that helps clients find better ways to grow by creating relevant brands and customer experiences, driving accelerated growth strategies and leveraging digital as a transformative force. Brian joins me today to talk about the state of customer experience, digital maturity, digital transformation, digital Darwinism and the future of customer experience.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – CMOs, collaboration, customer experience and the real-time data imperative – Interview with Thom Gruhler – and is number 247 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Highlights from my conversation with Brian:

  • Brian and I met at the Wave Influencer 2.0 event in London in November where Brian was keynoting and I was also speaking
  • It’s probably safe to generalise that most businesses are not keeping up with customer expectations and are not delivering the experience that they want.
  • Many businesses are running off of borrowed time but they’re also running on sustained momentum.
  • Success tends to reinforce past behaviour instead of encouraging businesses to take chances on new behaviour.
  • Traditional management constructs are built on forty, fifty, sixty year old premises and that leads to individuals making decisions about the business based on legacy mindsets.
  • This can lead to businesses being on one trajectory and customers on another, where the risk is that the gap widens over time and that increases the risk of disruption.
  • The key to changing this is to get people to see what they can’t see, it’s getting them to feel like they can take risks, that they’re empowered to do so and that the reward structure they operate in rewards them for trying new things.
  • The answer to this is very dependent on the culture, behaviour, the norms, and the experience of the organisation.
  • We need to take the agile principles that IT is adopting and apply them to culture.
  • That is hard part because many businesses don’t have a leadership infrastructure today that says “Yes, let’s do this at scale”.
  • They might be succeeding in pockets but, in most cases, this is not happening at scale.
  • Whilst we are starting to see many companies make big moves in digital transformation, corporate innovation, digital customer experience and employee experience, the problem is that much of it is still being driven by a legacy mindset.
  • This legacy mindset doesn’t know how to appreciate or respond when answers come back that says we need to do this not just differently but radically differently. The reason is that it poses a challenge to their current economic model and way of thinking.
  • If they are not careful, this scenario, for many brands, could be their ‘Kodak’ moment.
  • Rather than talking about digital transformation perhaps we should talk about evolution instead.
  • The consumerization of technology has given birth to an accelerated form of digital transformation. Something Brian calls digital Darwinism.
  • The rapid changes now facing business is as much a human problem as it is a technology problem.
  • If you’re involved in any aspect of digital in your organization, then Brian recommends reading these three reports:
  • Brian’s research shows that there are six stages to digital transformation:
    • Business as Usual
    • Present and Active
    • Formalized
    • Strategic
    • Converged
    • Innovative and Adaptive
  • If you imagine that these are organised as a bell curve and go from left to right then most companies are on the left to the middle of those stages.
  • Many companies will say that they’re on the far right (i.e. Innovative and Adaptive) but, in reality, when you talk to them you see just how far left they are.
  • It’s jaw dropping how much further along organizations think they are than they actually are.
  • The real danger for organizations is that they already have the people within their business that have the answers but often they are shutting them out.
  • Given the level of focus on technology right now many businesses are losing sight of who their customers really are or who the most valuable customers are.
  • The number one catalyst for driving accelerated digital transformation in Brian’s research was customer experience.
  • However, whilst almost all of the companies that Brian spoke said this, only 34 percent of the companies had studied their customers in the last year.
  • Looking into the future, Brian believes that we are likely to see a massive spike in corporate innovation efforts.
  • However, that won’t involve organisations themselves trying to be more innovative but rather with them acquiring innovative companies.
  • That will lead to organisations/brands developing portfolios of innovation. But, it is likely that these will need to managed separately because they won’t be able to be managed within their current construct.
  • That means that many companies will essentially end up buying a better customer experience.
  • Executives need to understand that they have the right people within their organization to help make the changes that they want. The challenge is how do they find them and help them make the changes that are needed. Executives need to learn to become a leader and not a manager.
  • Companies to watch:
    • Domino’s Pizza, who are becoming less of a pizza company and more of a technology company.
    • Starbucks, who are really focused on the mobile consumer not the gourmet consumer.
  • Check out Altimeter’s research here.
  • Also, check out Brian’s latest book: X: The Experience When Business Meets Design.

About Brian

Brian SolisBrian Solis is a principal analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet Company. He’s a business strategist and futurist who creates new media strategies and frameworks that build bridges not only between companies and their customers, but also with employees and key stakeholders. Prior to joining Altimeter, Brian led interactive and social programs for Fortune 500 companies, notable celebrities and Web 2.0 startups since 1999 as Principal of FutureWorks.

A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. His research and his books help executives, and also everyday people, better understand the relationship between the evolution of technology and its impact on business and society and also the role we each play in it. As a result of his work, Solis also helps leading brands, celebrities, and startups develop new digital transformation, culture 2.0, and innovation strategies and that enable businesses to adapt to new connected markets from the inside out.

Brian was named an “Influential Leader” by CRM Magazine in 2010, and one of “Silicon Valley’s 40 Under 40” in 2008. Brian actively contributes to Fast Company, BusinessWeek, Ad Age, Harvard Business Review and Mashable; and is a best-selling author.

He is also an award-winning author, prominent blogger/writer, and keynote speaker.

You can find out more about Altimeter and Prophet here and here and do check out Brian’s own site here and his books here. Also, connect with Brian on LinkedIn here and say Hi to him on Twitter @briansolis.


Thanks to Pixabay for the image.

4 comments On The future of customer experience and how digital transformation is as much a human problem as it is a technology problem – Interview with Brian Solis

  • It is interesting that you point out the discrepancy between the need to innovate and to “do this at scale”

    I suspect most senior managers are only really interested in demonstrating that they have improved efficiency. It is a lot easier to do over the short term than to innovate.

    When they have done that then they can move onto their next job….

  • Thats a very well thought out discussion. Thanks Adrian, It always seems to go back to the fact that
    – transformation is about changing mindset, as much as everything else.
    – leaders in an organisation think their organisations are far more along the right hand side than they actually are.
    – digital is not a bolt on that can be ‘done to an organisation’, its as much about people.

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