There’s more to building a digital company than using the word ‘digital’.
How about this for the most boring opening sentence ever? “Last week I joined an event for insurance professionals talking about the challenge of legacy technology.”
Well, let me reassure you that the content was anything other than dull. In a small gathering arranged by The Insurance Network a truly passionate group of operations and technology leaders debated how to ensure a customer-centric digital approach even when there are real technology obstacles in place.
The event followed Chatham House rules so I’m not going to share specifics, but I was invited to share some opening thoughts to kick things off. I’ll run through those below for you to reflect on.
As you go through your digital journey, how many of these are relevant to you?
Design Thinking. Are you walking the walk or just talking the talk?
Please raise your virtual hand if you have recently participated in (or organized!) a Design Thinking workshop.
Now, keep it raised if you had real customers in the room.
Hmmm. Not so great.
If you look online for a definition of Design Thinking you get a lot of incomprehensible definitions and the offer of expensive courses. These are followed by a number of easy-to-follow (or maybe simplistic?) frameworks.
Simply put, design thinking is putting the customer at the center of how you design, enhance or improve your product. This is intuitively how most people want to behave, but too often those of us in companies think we know what the customer wants.
And thus a proliferation of expensive, time-consuming Design Thinking workshops which create lots of output but regularly fail to check if it is really what the customer wants, or simply what the seller thinks the customer wants.
There is no harm in jumping on the latest bandwagon when designing your digital business. Just make sure you jump on properly.
Product Managers. Are you learning from the latest thinking?
There are lots of different ways of describing product managers. The one I most like, even if it’s tough to actually find someone like this, is as follows.
A product manager is the person who rolls over in bed in the morning and, before doing anything else, checks to see the metrics of how users engaged with the product since yesterday…
It’s easy to make the case that insurance doesn’t lend itself to the same product management approach that a social media app, or a streaming service, or a smart thermostat would. Fine. But does that mean you can’t learn anything from a product manager’s approach and mindset?
And, in fact, maybe more profoundly, is it possible for you to start down a digital transformation journey without defining what you offer your customer as a digital solution of some kind?
Are you building a digital business or a digitized business?
For years I thought this was simply two variations on the same word — like aluminum or aluminium, or specialty and speciality. One day in a workshop with Google it was explained to me.
A digital business is digital from the ground-up.
A digitized business is what all you insurance-types are doing as you take your legacy analog processes and create a poorly connected mish-mash of data and technology.
We see this all the time when a shiny UI is placed on top of something far less shiny. Often this is a necessary stepping stone. But it should never be the destination.
And it should never, internally at least, be positioned as a sustainable digital solution when it clearly isn’t.
Take a quick look back at the cover image of this article. If you’re putting digital lipstick on a legacy pig it shows through pretty quickly.
Where is your customer journey?
I’ve run workshops with dozens of companies, in and outside insurance, on ‘journeys’. Depending on the aim we’ve come up with data journeys, decision-making journeys, digital journeys, engagement journeys, and a whole range of other journey types.
What is missing most often is the customer!
Plans for the data, for new digital tools, and for enhanced processes are drawn on the whiteboard or written on sticky notes, and people nod and make edits and start to feel good about what they have done.
Where’s the customer? I ask. Oh, at the start, they reply. Where? I repeat, pointing out that the start is almost always simply “data in”. Sure, at one level it is simply the word ‘customer’ missing from the flow, but at a far more profound level, the customer is missing from the entire thinking and narrative.
If you want to use digital to reduce your costs then fine, but if you think you are doing it to make things quicker or better for the customer, make sure you are thinking about where and how the customer wants to engage with you.
Using digital to understand pain points. Pragmatically.
Many years ago I worked for a supermarket resolving their out-of-stock challenges. They were spending a lot of money trying to develop sensors that would identify when the product had low levels on the shelf.
They were struggling with the tech.
One day someone said: This is not a technology challenge, this is a data challenge. With this reframing, we realized that if you know how much you plan to sell of an item each hour, then if significantly less passes through the check-outs you may having a stocking issue.
Sure, this didn’t tell you the moment you were out of stock but it let you know pretty quickly. And it was far quicker and cheaper to implement than refitting 3,500 miles of shelving.
So, how are other industries, including insurance, using data to understand customers’ pain points?
I shared with the audience the story of how I had recently spent 40 minutes of my motor insurer’s website trying to add additional coverage. The process kept failing and in the end I gave up. Frustration for me and a lost sale for them.
The astounding failure was them not using the insight they gained to try and help me. I was logged in and following their workflow; their computers must have known I spent 40 minutes doing the same thing but not getting anywhere. Did they think to get in touch? Absolutely not?
Sure, they’ve built a great website that is very intuitive, but no tech is perfect.
What your customers want is that you can help and engage them when the tech fails.
Are you listening to your digital natives?
My final point related to using those members of staff who will have different insights to the decision-makers. This gives you invaluable (and free) insight while making your staff feel more empowered.
Over the last few years, digital natives have entered the workforce. Born in the late 90s or early 00s these peoples’ first phone was a smartphone, they’ve only ever known streaming for music and movies (never CDs or linear TV), and are aware that almost any fact can be discovered if you know how to search online.
We call them impatient, but this isn’t due to low attention spans, simply that they know if one digital service is slow to satisfy their needs, then another will likely offer the same but faster.
Their mindset, their expectations, and their experience of how great products and services can be are invaluable to every company trying to sell digital products. But do we listen to them?
Too many companies forget that within their staff is their target audience.
Sure, you can’t simply replace external focus groups with a chat with your new joiners, but think about what meetings, what workshops, what product reviews a young, fresh, digital native voice could help with.
When it comes to engagement with these workers, one area growing increasingly popular is that of reverse-mentoring. This is where you pair up a successful executive with a digitally savvy younger member of staff. A generation ago the flow of advice was just in one direction. Now, the senior — if they ask the right questions — can gain invaluable insight about what’s changing in the world.
And with that information consider what to change in your company: where to apply the digital lipstick and where to build new from scratch.