Digital Schmigital

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You keep reading and writing and saying “digital transformation.” Do you know what that means?

In September 2019, I did a keynote titled “Marketing in the Era of Customer Experience” for an American Marketing Association (AMA) event. In that keynote, I talked about the 10 realities of marketing in the era of customer experience. The tenth item I talked about was titled, “Digital Schmigital.” I got a few chuckles and a bunch of “bravos” out of that one.

Why? For the same reason I titled #10 the way I did: digital and the use of the term “digital transformation” has become laughable. A catch-all. The latest cure for a terminal disease. A euphemism.

Oh yea, a euphemism: the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt. Not sure about that? Let’s think about digital for a second. Isn’t it just a way more fun way of saying that cumbersome and painful-to-execute thing called omni-channel? Oh that? Haven’t heard that phrase bandied about as a trend or prediction or much of anything else in the last year or two, have you? Digital is way more sexy.

It’s too difficult to integrate the offline and online worlds (data, experience, etc.) into one seamless experience, so let’s not do that anymore. Instead, let’s talk about digital and forget the analog. And let’s forget about the customer in the process.

Shortly before I did that keynote last fall, I read a five-page article about digital transformation. Guess what? The word “customer” was used once in the article (five pages!), and it wasn’t even about the experience or bringing the customer into the digital transformation.

It wasn’t the first article I read on the topic that didn’t mention the customer. Customers get lost in the so-called digital transformation. Companies forget that it’s about the customer and how to connect with them and deliver a better experience for them.

Here’s what else I’ve heard and seen that confirms this: companies are setting up digital departments that are bolt-ons or siloed to get the job done, to “make the company digital.” But that’s a mistake. It’s an enterprise-wide effort; don’t think that the team you’ve relegated to the office in the back corner can “make you digital” on their own.

What is digital transformation? I like this definition from Salesforce:

Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.

It transcends traditional roles like sales, marketing, and customer service. Instead, digital transformation begins and ends with how you think about, and engage with, customers. As we move from paper to spreadsheets to smart applications for managing our business, we have the chance to reimagine how we do business — how we engage our customers — with digital technology on our side.

And then this:

Digital transformation begins and ends with the customer.

This last thought is the part that seems to be missing in too many digital transformation efforts. Here’s what I think:

  • Digital is less about digital and more about people.
  • Digital transformation is about meeting the needs of the connected customer and changing your processes to do so.
  • Digital strategy is about how to meet the needs and solve the problems of the connected customer.
  • It’s all customer experience transformation, which includes every mode, touchpoint, and channel.
  • It’s enterprise-wide and begins with culture.


In The Digital Transformation Playbook, David Rogers writes that there are five domains of digital transformation: customers, competition, data, innovation, and value. Customers evolve to customers networks, i.e., the connected customer. Competition becomes not just those in your industry but in other industries, as well, i.e., the Amazon effect. Data is everywhere and is at the heart of a digital transformation, connecting silos and creating value. Innovation becomes our everyday, and the focus is on solving the right problem; testing ideas is faster, cheaper, and easier. And value creation becomes proactive rather than reactive.

This is a far cry from what I’ve seen and heard when it comes to digital transformation. It’s time to take a step back and revisit all of your business processes in order to do digital transformation right. It’s time to think about the efficiencies, the more-effective decision-making, and the personalized experiences your digital transformation will deliver. What are the desired outcomes for all constituents? It’s time to think about customers – and all other constituents – and what it means for them when the transformation is complete.

Digital transformation must be a part of your customer experience transformation and business process transformation. Digital is not just about setting up a website, creating a mobile app, or using social media to serve customers.

Take a step back and revisit your thinking and your approach to digital.

We don’t think of it as just a digital transformation. We’re driving an end-to-end business transformation. -Simeon Preston

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, keynote speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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