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Is digital transformation the new big data?

Before we dive deeper into observing what digital transformation stands for and what it means for customer experience programs across all businesses, let’s go just a few years back down memory lane. 

Five years ago, big data was everywhere. It was presented as the latest technology trend that companies must adopt to survive. In essence, big data wasn’t a new technology. It wasn’t a revolutionary concept that companies could use to disrupt competition. The term refers to the continuously growing volume of data companies capture and generate. There are numerous technologies available to standardize the processes used to capture this growing volume of data, store it, analyze it, and dispose of it. However, the simple notion of data volume growth wasn’t necessarily a new concept.

One can argue that the volume of data has been growing at a rapid pace for several hundred years, especially since the invention of the printing press in Europe approximately in 1440. The difference is that the pace of growth in data volume has been faster than ever before, and it’s expected to remain that way. Briefly, big data was essentially referring to the continuous growth of structured and unstructured data over the past several hundred years.

Customer experience practitioners who were trying to understand what big data meant for their businesses quickly understood that big data was just referring to the obvious trend they’ve been experiencing for decades; companies have more customer data captured through more channels (e.g. web, email, social media) than ever before. The problem was figuring out how to use this data to better manage customer conversations. In fact, findings from Aberdeen’s Customer Engagement Analytics study shows that only 8% of businesses are fully satisfied with their ability to use data to manage customer conversations. Best-in-Class firms that excel in using big data do so through a series of processes and technologies highlighted in the aforementioned study.

This brings us back to digital transformation. Just like big data, digital transformation is simply referring to the obvious trend that digital technologies are playing an increasing role in both consumer and business activities. Consumers have been using websites such as Yelp!, Angie’s List, and Amazon.com to make more educated buying decisions. They also use social media portals such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others to interact with friends, family, colleagues and even complete strangers to seek help when making purchases, as well as share their experiences interacting with different brands and companies.

Businesses have also been digitally transforming for decades. The first inter-city fax was transmitted in 1907. The first telephone pager was patented in 1949 in New York. Email was invented in the 1970s, and during the 1990s it has become a common form of communication across many businesses. Other digital communication channels such as social media, online communities, live chat, text messaging and others are also hardly newcomers to business communications. Similarly, digital transformation is not a new concept or trend. It’s also not a new technology. It’s merely a process where companies have been continuously evolving by adding new communication channels and digital tools to their existing activities.

This means that customer experience practitioners don’t need to be worried about yet another trend that they don’t know about, or divert their attention and resources away from satisfying their customers. What they must really focus on is ‘digital enablement.’ This refers to using today’s digital channels in such a way that companies are more likely to achieve their objectives. These objectives can be growing company revenue, reducing cost, improving time-to-information, reducing compliance risks, etc. Whatever the goals may be, it’s important that customer experience leaders first clearly define the core goals and values driving their customer experience management efforts.

Once this is done, they must then assess how each channel and technology fits into their efforts to achieve these results. For example, as digital channels such as video, web and social media gain higher adoption across businesses, one of the top challenges faced by customer experience leaders is the lack of integration between systems capturing data across these channels. Hence, CX leaders’ time is better spent addressing this challenge instead of trying to catch up with buzzwords such as ‘big data’ and ‘digital transformation.’

Aberdeen’s upcoming October 2017 report on Omni-Channel Customer Care will provide further insights into how modern customer experience leaders enable their organization with the right digital tools and processes to achieve their desired goals. Meanwhile, check out the previous year’s Four Steps to Long-Lasting Customer Bonds with Omni-Channel study for more insights on the topic.

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