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The Often Missing Link in a Digital Transformation Initiative


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In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on digital transformation (DT), authors Behnam Tabrizi, Ed Lam, Kirk Girard, and Vernon Irvin shared best practices for leading digital transformation in organizations. With companies planning to spend more than $1.3 trillion on DT initiatives in 2019 alone, and only 70% expected to reach the desired outcomes, there is a clear disconnect between what needs to be done and how to make it happen.

Of the many strong statements made in the article, two key points stood out to me most of all. The first one is about why DT initiatives fail:

“Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy. But if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organizational practices are flawed, DT will simply magnify those flaws.”

Quite true and can be said for nearly any business initiative, DT or otherwise. The second is about how DT projects actually succeed:

“Digital transformation worked for these organizations because their leaders went back to the fundamentals: they focused on changing the mindset of its members as well as the organizational culture and processes before they decide what digital tools to use and how to use them.”

The impact of the right mindset and leadership on DT is clear. But getting workers intimately involved requires buy-in and ownership. And it also requires a payoff.

As I read through the five main lessons, which range from determining a strategy before starting to build an agile, start-up culture within your organization, I was reminded of one critical area often overlooked: employee experience.

Customer experience is a primary driver for digital transformation. Altimeter analyst Brian Solis put it this way, “You can see that the customer is front and center in a lot of this stuff. And that’s interesting, because [customer experience] is giving digital transformation a purpose.”

Yet, in the drive to create better customer engagement, the employee experience is often forgotten. In a recent RingCentral survey, we found that among 2,000 global customer-facing employees, 75% said they can’t serve customers when coworker collaboration is hard. And 67% said they lack historical customer interaction data needed to do their job effectively.

These issues left 9 in 10 employees feeling that disjointed communications technologies alone affect workflow and job satisfaction, impacting customer satisfaction and the bottom line. The good news is that 9 in 10 also believe a seamless communications platform would improve employee experience, customer experience, and company profitability.

In building on the lessons presented in this HBR article, not only is it important to “design customer experience from the outside in,” but design employee experience from the inside out, empowering employees and customers to work as one.

Learn more about how engaged employees and engaged customers leads to business profitability.  


Originally published Jun 05, 2019, updated Jan 30, 2023

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