On a clear night, one of my favorite things to do is to look in the sky for Polaris, the North Star. From my time as a boy camping in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest to finding my way at night in many unfamiliar places across the globe, Polaris has always helped me find my bearing in times of need.
It is not the brightest star at the firmament, but you can always find it right at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. For centuries, Polaris has guided travelers across land and sea, long before modern navigation tools and GPS became available. Polaris is “always visible,” as described by the Macedonian writer Joannes Stobaeus in the 5th century AD. Aligned with the earth’s axis, the North Star’s steady presence gives a sense of direction as the universe circles around it.
For companies, the universe revolves around customer satisfaction. Customer success is the ultimate destination. But reaching and maintaining happy customers in a volatile business environment is not an easy journey to embark on.
In PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, published earlier this year, chief executive officers (CEOs) expressed that they encountered a high level of uncertainty on their path forward. Among the top 15 perceived threats were the speed of technological change and changing consumer behaviors.
To succeed in any type of business climate, companies need the ability to change course, adapt, and reinvent. This is where services-driven technology innovation comes in. It can turn challenges into opportunities. Companies are already using technological change to their advantage. The survey results also show that CEOs are doubling down on the use of technology more than they have in previous years and including intelligent automation and cloud-enabled tech services to achieve operational efficiencies. They rely on technology to create memorable customer experiences and thereby higher brand loyalty. The digital experience remains a key driver for business transformation according to the Deloitte Tech Trends 2020 report.
Services offer companies a beacon – their very own North Star – to drive digital business transformation and achieve customer success in calm and rough waters. Here is how.
Adapting Business and Operating Models in Times of Need
Every challenge is an opportunity to drive positive change. Services help companies to weather recurring seasonal changes and unpredictable events such as natural disasters and the impact of COVID-19.
Millions of consumers sheltering at home worldwide have turned to online and mobile services for shopping, entertainment, fitness, and education. It prompted a massive switch to direct-to-consumer and business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce and service models across industries that limit in-person interaction. Retailers turned stores into storage and distribution centers to support their move to online sales. They also looked at new types of products and services they could sell to customers digitally, such as bundling products or offering new types of customizations.
The MIT Sloan Management Review article by Michael Wade and Heidi Bjerkan includes a fascinating example of how Nike turned the shutdown of more than 5,000 of its stores across China into an opportunity to engage with Chinese consumers digitally by offering at-home workouts. This boosted the company’s online sales so successfully that Nike kept the home workout as a service when stores began to reopen. As a result, Nike’s digital business reached triple-digit growth levels and the company created a road map to navigate the impact of COVID-19 in other countries.
Identify Innovation Opportunities for Long-Term Success
As countries gradually re-open, companies can use services to continuously adapt their business and customer engagement models to the new reality. One of the biggest takeaways for companies will be to find new ways of doing business and infuse the learnings from the past months into their future business strategies.
One industry that could boost its adoption rate is telemedicine. According to the latest McKinsey survey on consumer behavior, 50 percent of the growth in physical and mental telemedicine offerings are currently coming from new users. As people become more used to consulting medical professionals online out of necessity, an opportunity has arisen to continue and expand the use of digital health services in the future and offer access to basic healthcare services such as consultations, digital check-ups, and prescriptions from the convenience of the home.
Across all industries, the move to a virtual work and operating environment has also accelerated the emergence of a remote customer support and services model. To stay socially connected in times where people are physically apart, customer service and support has become a lifeline for businesses and their customers. For example, while remote services delivery existed before the global pandemic, the off-site delivery model now has become the new gold standard for customer service and support. Essential businesses services need to enhance off-site working environments and remote collaboration in the front and back office, supply chain, finance, and essential operations via a 100 percent off-site model.
Creating Modular Services Offerings
Additionally, services will become more personalized. If you ever bought a large Lego set, you have experienced the multitude of possibilities to build your very own creations. However, you may not need all the pieces in your set for what you want to build.
The same principle applies for services. Companies have access to an entire spectrum of services to protect their operations and drive customer success. These services can be used on a modular basis, depending on their specific needs. This starts with services that cover rudimentary needs, such as general safeguarding, to highly individualized and more complex high-touch services.
Like the North Star, services can act as a beacon for companies to stay on course for customer success. They allow companies to harness the power of technology to reimagine their future and adapt to change.
Some of the biggest lessons that companies have learned over the past months are being able to change fast and to embrace change as an opportunity. Even our current North Star will be succeeded by a different star due to the motion of the earth. If I were to live another 4000 years, I would look for Gamma Cephei in those clear nights. However, the need for a North Star will remain the same in life and business. Regardless of what the future brings, digital services will continue to steer companies’ business transformation journeys as their North Star by keeping customer experience at the center of their universe.
Shane Paladin is president of Services at SAP.