7 Essential Digital Transformation Competencies
POSTED : January 7, 2017
BY : Andrew McLaughlin

We’ve all heard the hype around digital transformation: it seems everyone wants to talk about it. But just because there’s a lot of hype doesn’t mean it’s not important—or that you can ignore it.

That’s a pretty wide gap to bridge in a very short time. So, what will it take to actually transform your organization to thrive in this digital, customer-led era? And where should you begin?

Stop talking about digital transformation and start doing it

To deliver the digital experiences that customers love and drive sustainable business success, we believe you need seven organizational competencies. By mastering each of these “DX7” competencies you will move beyond the buzzwords and one-off, me-too tactics—and be able to deliver connected digital experiences that drive value.

Insight: Understanding your customer in the context of your business

To create digital experiences that people love, you must first gain insight into the people you hope to engage and serve. This is the very core of becoming a customer-centric organization. And it requires that you have a real and present understanding of your customers, including their journey, goals and motivations.

Insight starts with direct customer research, but it shouldn’t end there. A well-crafted voice of the customer program will keep insights flowing into your organization on an ongoing basis to improve product and service design and customer support. As part of this research, you need to continuously understand the market landscape and trends influencing your industry, as well as your own employees.


Everence, a faith-based, member-owned financial services organization, knew it needed to transform around digital. The customer research PK conducted as part of the Everence digital experience strategy unearthed a better understanding of the new customer segments and markets that Everence needs to attract and retain. And personas and journey maps established the groundwork for building and growing those relationships.

Our research also assessed the rapidly changing competitive landscape, as companies like Apple Pay and Mint are disrupting financial services, especially for the digital-savvy millennials whose brand loyalties are in constant flux. The Everence team collaborated with frontline customer service employees to discover what changes would have the most impact. And they got buy-in and commitment from the CEO on down to uplevel the organization’s digital experience programs.

Vision: Aligning to a “north star”

Armed with a better understanding of your customers and business opportunities, you are ready for the next step of digital transformation: a shared vision for the future. This means bringing peers and stakeholders together to agree on a north star that aligns digital with your business goals and customer needs. What does an ideal experience look like—for your customers and your delivery teams? Can you imagine an experience that sets you apart from your competitors? Will the principles of that experience deliver on your brand promise? With the north star as your guide, you can align the teams that will prioritize and map initiatives needed to support those experiences.

To infuse this vision into your organization’s DNA, you need a provocative visualization that brings it to life in a tangible, memorable way. PK VP of Experience Design Colin O’Neill says selling your digital experience strategy starts with telling a story. “To deliver a strategy that can transform an organization, you need to connect and demand attention,” Colin says. “Once the strategy is created it’s natural to feel that everyone will immediately see the value and work to execute it. But creating a strategy and communicating it effectively are two different things.”

Culture: Building on a foundation of shared values

Culture isn’t just about ping-pong tables and kombucha kegs. The kind of organizational culture that enables digital transformation goes much deeper than that. You need high-performing, connected and informed teams who are empowered to transcend silos, own all aspects of the digital experience, and build collaborative relationships, with the freedom to experiment with low risk.

Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But this does not mean that culture is more important than strategy. It means a strategy that does not respect, include or build from the shared values of its culture will not drive the strategic outcomes it expects. Discovering what motivates teams to master new skills, work with autonomy and believe in a purpose that connects them to delivering value is crucial to sustainable success.

Ruby Receptionists

Ruby Receptionists, a virtual receptionist agency, has created a culture of innovation by empowering their employees to go above and beyond simply answering the phone. They’re inspired to create experiences that their customers—and their customers’ customers—love. And they’re rewarded for it. It’s all part of living the company’s core values, which include “Foster Happiness” and “Practice WOWism.”

Ruby founder and CEO Jill Nelson says the art of practicing WOWism is about really listening to people, anticipating their unexpressed needs, and giving it to them before they even ask. “When people come to work every day they’re not just coming to handle 250 calls,” Jill says. “They’re coming to work for a true purpose; they’re here to make someone else’s day.”

Content: Connecting your brand story to customer experience

83% of marketers say creating buyer-centric content is a priority, but only 23% claim to be at an advanced state of this transition.”

—SiriusDecisions 3

Content is a core element of your online customer experience—and when done well it enables you to build and measure meaningful business impact. To do this you need a cohesive plan for creating, publishing and governing your organization’s content.

Building on insights and a shared vision, a successful content strategy defines how each audience connects and engages with what makes your business unique. Content must be relevant to each audience and focus on making each step of their experience effective, easy and enjoyable. That means creating clear, simple content that enhances, rather than impedes, the experience.

Technology: Building an integrated experience ecosystem

“Investment related to digital transformation will constitute the majority of growth in technology markets over the next five years.”

—IDC Futurescape 3

The need or desire for new technology is often the catalyst for digital transformation—and it provides the essential infrastructure that enables it. From content management systems to customer data platforms to marketing automation to ERPs, technology powers virtually every aspect of customer experience. But technology on its own can’t deliver the kind of digital experience that wins in the age of the customer—or transform your business. That’s why your business goals and digital strategy should inform your technology investments, not the other way around.

PK VP of Technology Brian Payne says you need to look at your organization’s technology capabilities in the context of customer experience and the people and processes that support it. “Clearly selecting the right technology matters, especially for deployments with complex requirements and diverse stakeholder considerations,” Brian says. “But keep in mind that your success will ultimately depend on the upfront planning and implementation—not the platform itself.”

Execution: Doing the right things, in the right way

“Digital operational excellence (DOX) is a critical imperative in digital transformation, replacing traditional thinking around organization efficiency.”

—Forrester Research

Having a customer-focused digital strategy with the content and technology to support it gives you a solid foundation for digital transformation. But connection is everything. To deliver on the story and vision your brand promises to the marketplace, you need to have the right people, with the right skills, and the right operational processes in place, including:

  • An established process for the ongoing prioritization and execution of digital projects
  • Written governance policies and plans with buy-in from your teams
  • Quality assurance processes that test for ideal and worst-case scenarios

You also need established project and vendor management capabilities and a staffing plan for digital roles and vendors, with written job descriptions that cover required digital capabilities.

Optimization: Using data to continuously improve

“Optimization brings everyone together around the common goal of making what you make better.”

— Ryan Summers, PK

Optimization brings your digital experience strategy full circle. By measuring the right customer experience and business performance metrics you can build value and improve outcomes. Unlike conversion rate optimization, which focuses on maximizing specific transactions, customer experience optimization is part of a longer-term lifecycle of strategic testing and insight. And it’s the best way to increase customer lifetime value.

“Optimization is not for pages, but for people,” says PK Experience Optimization lead Ryan Summers. “It allows you to validate your intuition and research and see how your design actually works with a real audience. And it’s a way to stay in touch with the nuances of how customers are interacting with your brand, reduce friction and reveal the moments that matter.”

That is exactly what BMC Software has done on an ongoing basis since they launched their new website. With a framework for optimization and more efficient content creation, BMC can incorporate what they learn from web analytics to optimize site performance and deliver the content that best meets customer needs. “You’re not launching a website; you’re launching a hypothesis,” says BMC Director of Web Marketing Mark Fries. “Then you’re constantly testing assumptions about what users need and value. It’s never one and done.”

Change is hard, but getting started is easy

Understanding these new capabilities—and the gaps and barriers that stand between you and digital transformation—is the first step to making real change happen. Many businesses, of course, recognize these gaps. The lack of training in new digital skills, missing internal roles, and organizational inability to adapt are routinely cited as key obstacles to digital-led transformation.

If you’re ready to disrupt the status quo—and shift your organization’s focus from “the way we’ve always done it” to aligning teams on the power of digital—the DX7 Assessment is a great place to start. Download Let’s Get Phygital: Customer Experience (CX) in an Omnichannel Universe and start laying the groundwork for digital transformation in your organization.

About the Author

A picture of Andrew McLaughlin

Andrew McLaughlin partners with clients to help them effectively own their digital future. He has helped companies such as OHSU, Nike, Esri and more become digitally self-sufficient. Andrew is also responsible for spearheading many internal processes and frameworks, as well as packaging consulting, recruitment and training services.

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