At the Sprinklr Digital Transformation Summit in Nashville, Cisco Chairman John Chambers issued a stark warning during his keynote address.
“75 percent of the companies in this room will be digital in just four years, that’s the good news,” Chambers said to the audience. “The bad news? It’s only going to work for a third of you, because you won’t reinvent yourself.”
The prediction reflected the core of Chambers’ address, which served as an appeal for attendees to adapt, innovate, and disrupt – or perish (or, more specifically, get “Uber’ed”).
To demonstrate how important it is for companies to reinvent themselves in the digital, customer-first age, Chambers cited the striking speed with which Amazon, Tesla, and Uber eclipsed the market cap of industry stalwarts such as Wal-Mart and GM.
These newer companies, Chambers said, grew at astonishing rates because of their ability to think differently and harness cutting-edge technology.
“If we do not change and get our companies to change,” Chambers said. “They will get left behind.”
To drive this change, said Chambers, companies must commit to providing top notch experiences for customers who are more connected – and as a result, more empowered – than ever.
A primary obstacle that he cited is the disconnected structure of most brands. “Nine out of ten customers, whether they’re businesses or consumers, expect when they touch base with you – either with customer service, marketing, or e-commerce – they want a consistent experience,” he said. “And yet each of you have 20 to 30 different vendors in each of those categories that don’t even talk to each other.
Thus, companies must have an organization-wide commitment to eliminating the dreaded silo. “If you don’t break down the silos,” he said. “You can’t focus on outcomes with the speed that’s needed in this market. And When you think about the importance of customer experience, it [also] can’t be in silos.
“How we as companies value our customers is measured by how we handle them, especially in service situation, not to mention the buying side of the house and marketing,” added Chambers. That will determine your innovation, it will determine your growth, it would determine your productivity.”
Considering his prognostication that “More than half us will be irrelevant in a decade,” it could also very well determine a company’s survival.
Later in the day, Charlene Li – founder of digital research and strategy consultancy Altimeter – offered a no-nonsense take on what companies must do to thrive (and survive) in today’s business climate.
“You think about disruption and change as something that’s painful, and it’s absolutely is,” she said. “But it’s the only way that you can drive exponential growth – I’m not talking about a little bit better than everyone else, I’m talking about market-shaping, market-killing growth.”
To Li, complacency is fatal. “If you’re not growing, guess what happens,” she asked the audience. “Status quo, which makes it hard to attract new talent because people aren’t necessarily looking for the best pay, they’re not looking for the best brand, they’re looking for opportunity to grow themselves. Those opportunities are provided at organizations that are growing exponentially.”
In her remarks, Li also acknowledged how difficult (and necessary) it is for companies to balance day-to-day operational needs with a forward-looking commitment to innovation, which can often take years to come to fruition.
Instead of just forming an innovation team and sticking them in Silicon Valley, Li said, companies must embrace an organization-wide commitment to change. At the companies leading the charge, she added, “Every single person in that organization – from the CEO to the person sitting at reception – is thinking about disruption.”
And what should disruption achieve in today’s age of connected and empowered consumers? Great customers experiences, of course.
Li posed a question to the audience: “How many of you are involved in creating the customer experience at your organization.” Many – but not all – hands went up. “Every single hand should be up,” she said. “Because this is the key: if you are not focused on customer experience, you are working on the wrong thing.”
“Customer experience forms the foundation for everything you do – everything from product, to finance, to supply chain management, to human resources,” Li added.
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