Digital Engagement: It’s More Critical Now Than Ever!

Apr 24, 2015 1 Min Read

Digital engagement is a term that is often thrown about in a number of different ways. For the purpose of this article I would like to use the following definition: digital engagement uses digital tools and techniques to find, listen and mobilise a community around an issue.

This might include discussions in social media, understanding your digital interactions with customers and the efficiencies of your supply chain internally.

In using this definition, we can see that digital engagement extends across the whole business, multiple functional areas and most stakeholders. I would maintain that it is an area that can provide significant opportunity and value.

You might say:

“That’s great, I’ll get some people to manage it!”

But why does the chief executive officer (CEO) need to be involved?

Surely, there are other more important things for CEOs to focus on. Well, I believe there are a couple of key reasons why their involvement is critical.

Here are four of them:

  • CEO on social media can humanise the company

In an interview with Forbes, Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky revealed that 75% of global executives believe that a social CEO humanises the company. Given the accelerated momentum in many of these areas, that number will only increase.

Furthermore, among the Top 50 performing companies in the Fortune 500, just over 72% have a strong social media presence. This compares with the results of those outside the Fortune 500, which are much lower, i.e. less than 49%.

  • CEO creates transparency

Jessica Meher in her article Your Anti-Social CEO is Hurting Your Brand wrote that CEOs who don’t participate in social media are seen to be much less transparent and potentially less trustworthy. Essentially, this affects all stakeholders.

If the Board doesn’t see you as transparent and trustworthy, you won’t last long.

If your staff don’t see your transparency, then you won’t get 100% of their efforts.

And if your customers don’t trust you, the business will lose the revenue it should have earned.

  • Opportunity for transformation is significant

Often the digital initiatives carried out are narrow and impacting only specific parts of the business.

The opportunities revealed by looking at the whole business are disproportionately more valuable. Most times, the only way this can be achieved is via leadership spanning across divisions, and beyond the CEO.
This value comes from revenue increase and cost decrease (efficiencies) – both of which are important to pursue.

In many cases, if done well it will leave you with a much better understanding of their interactions or “digital body language” (Digital Body Language, Oracle Eloqua, 2013).

However, don’t be fooled by the term body language; it provides significant insights into what your customers are doing, how they research before they buy and the issues they face after purchase.

If you can pull together multiple sources and combine them with techniques using predictive analytics and big data assimilations, you will be surprised at the insights you can gain and then act on.

  • Rising expectations of digital engagement

Many people refer to the “consumerisation of IT” (information technology), and it has been my experience that this process outruns most IT groups without a concerted effort to stay somewhere within range.

Ten years ago, many corporates were using Blackberry phones for business purposes, and they would not have their junior employees telling them what phones they should use.

Fast forward 10 years later, many of us are complaining about “shadow IT”’ and the proliferation of devices accessing our networks. These days, no one differentiates between business and consumer smartphones anymore.

It’s not just employees; customers now expect the “ubiquitous connectivity”. Today, multi-channel delivery is no longer a nice thing to have.

From what I have been researching and what I have learnt from my past experience, here are seven pointers:

1. Aim big, go for BHAG (big hairy audacious goal)

It’s important that you look into the future, so don’t just set your sights on little steps. Set them on big forward-thinking goals which you will achieve via smaller steps.

This helps you to recognise the opportunities, in which you might well miss taking smaller, “safer” steps.

2. Understand DBL (digital body language)

You need to understand what is happening within your business, not just with customers.

How well are your employees using the tools you have invested in? Are there issues and opportunities within internal systems that might allow you to free up more employees to support customers?

When potential customers come, what do they do? Which search terms do they use? Can you see some of these behavioural patterns, from the first point where they come in to look for something within a specific timeframe until they come back to purchase or request to speak with a salesperson?

Do some products exhibit different patterns more than others, and can you determine some hypotheses? This sort of thinking allows you to try short-term experiments.

For example, an A and B page analysis, or you could survey customers asking them for their feedback on a specific feature or function which you had fine-tuned down to a specific question based on fact.

3. Use data to drive all decisions

Where possible, you need to base your thinking on good analysis and facts.

I am always sceptical when someone tells me he (or she) knows something but hasn’t got any hard facts to support the statement.

Obviously, facts need to be interpreted and you need to be cautious of biasness and preferences. However, there is always a much higher degree of accuracy when data is used.

4. Assess options and prioritise based on value and alignment to business strategies

This should be a no-brainer but we often take it for granted.

As a result, we tend to pick options that we are most comfortable with. These options might be of a lower risk (often coming with lower rewards too) and less painful.

I would recommend making decisions based on certain criteria (e.g. risk vs reward, business case, complexity, length of return and alignment to the overall business strategy).

If it is not aligned with the organisation’s business strategy, then perhaps it needs to be de-prioritised, assuming that the business strategy is right.

5. Always take an end-to-end viewpoint

If something changes at the front end, ensure you look for the pieces that should change at the back end too.

Nothing adds cost more over time than a number of changes to the front end of the business, websites, products, sales channels, etc, and then not engineering the best approach to support it.

Having said that, it’s quite reasonable to roll out an initial change and if it proves worthwhile, you can then make the changes. If it’s not working, then kill the change.

Don’t just let it go on and on as the accrual of those “half-baked” changes can cripple an organisation, if not addressed timely.

6. Build and maintain agility

Everyone talks about “agile management” as a methodology but many of us still haven’t worked out how that translates to other parts of our business, infrastructure and finance.

How do we take care of security, financial forecasting and other risk factors if we are trying to be agile?

How many executive groups have really embraced the change in thinking for agile projects?

It may well be that you were expecting to spend RM100,000 for a specific feature, but during the number of iterations, the quality never quite reached what you were expecting. Worse, things suddenly looked different and to get where you expected, it will take another RM100,000.

Feedback from customers might be fine, but expectations from the Board were not. This permeates through all functional areas and needs to addressed in a way that suits your business and culture.

You do need to change your business so that it can respond quickly to requirement changes. You will then need to work harder together with other groups to achieve that purpose.

7. Align business around these new structures

As you work through this, it might well become apparent that you need a different structure to better support it. Don’t be afraid to shake things up to better support the digital paradigm.

In conclusion

While I cannot say that these steps are exhaustive by any means, if you take note of why you are doing it, and then you consider these points amongst others, you can definitely make considerable gains.

Be brave enough to step out a little further than safety suggests. All the best!

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Peter Smith has vast experience as a former chief information officer with a reputable multinational company driving global strategies across the Asia-Pacific region. He recently drove cloud transformation initiatives to deliver the software as a service.

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