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Digital Disruption: The route to survival and growth in 2021?

Ant Morse, Head of Digital Solutions at O2 (Telefónica UK), considers the opportunities for digital disruption in 2021 and beyond.

You can also hear Ant discuss the need for embracing innovation, alongside Chris Early, Estates and Development Manager at Telefonica as he looks at what might become of the traditional office space. Listen to the Blue Door Podcast, episode 6: ‘The workplace of the future and the need to embrace innovation’ below.

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You can relax. This isn’t going to be another of those blog posts talking about how challenging 2020 was and embracing the new normal, or about how hard it’ll be for businesses of all sizes to recover the ground they lost as they move in to adapt and recover mode in 2021.

In fact, I want to start with one of the most positive outcomes of last year, focusing on the way businesses accelerated their digital transformation in order to keep working and to stay relevant. Every one of us had to adapt to the new way of working, very quickly, in order to be able meet online, collaborate with colleagues and to work from home, or from wherever we happened to be. After all the years of talking about needing to introduce flexible working practices, vast numbers of businesses were able to implement them in a matter of a few days or weeks. Whatever else 2020 is remembered for, it deserves recognition as the year of the digital workplace.

Looking ahead though, I think there is more to be done. In my many conversations with business leaders and CIOs these past months, I have identified competing visions of the future. For some, the focus for 2021 is still on survival and the steps they need to take in order to recover. But I have also spoken with several ‘acute’ or forward-thinking CIOs, who see what has happened as an opportunity for disintermediation and digital disruption. They recognise that the way consumers engage with businesses, and the experience they have come to expect, has changed forever. If they are to meet these changing expectations, then they must first change the way they do business.

Managing consumer expectation

I’ve been aware of a number of examples of how my own expectations have changed as the year has progressed. The first concerns my bank, when my wife and I wanted to open a first savings account for my 13-year-old son. I phoned our current bank, assuming it would be a straightforward process. However, it took four phone calls, including one where I was held in a queue for nearly an hour. When I eventually spoke to someone, they told me that I would have to open the new account in branch.

I felt certain that a better digital solution must exist, and I was right. Rather than drive to my nearest branch, I opened an account with one of the new, challenger banks online. It took around 15 minutes, and I was able to pay in my son’s first savings straight away. A bank card arrived in the post two days later, and we were able to set up his PIN using the mobile app.

It wasn’t just the account application process that made my own bank seemed so behind the times. The ways for customers to get in touch also seemed out of date. In the space of a few months, my own role at O2 changed from being almost permanently on the road, meeting customers face to face, to remote working and spending almost all of every day on the phone or in online meetings. I just don’t have the time or willingness to spend an hour waiting to get through to someone from my bank on the phone.

I’m being a little unfair. It isn’t just banks that need to up their game. I believe that businesses that thrive will be the ones who implement new, better and more innovative ways for their customers to engage with them. Perhaps the successful ones will be those to employ artificial intelligence and related automation capable of resolving all but the most complicated of enquiries. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do recognise that customer engagement is an area ripe for disruption.

Delivering the experience

Disruption prior to 2020 had already changed the way I pay for delivering the items I buy online, as well as the delivery itself. Like many, I have got used to the illusion that I get free delivery on many of my purchases, because delivery is one of the services packaged into my Amazon Prime account. As a result, I have come to expect free delivery elsewhere.

It isn’t just the delivery charge either, it’s the whole delivery experience when it comes to managing consumer expectation. Certain retailers provide me with tracking updates for even the smallest purchases, whilst others don’t provide parcel tracking at all, even for premium, expensive items.

Again, there’s an opportunity for surviving digital disruption here, that turns the delivery of a purchase into an integral part of the customer experience. I’ve been wondering whether this might include a role for the Internet of Things (IoT), with retailers adding a tracking device to every parcel, enabling you to monitor its precise location at any time.

I have singled out the banking and delivery examples because they are ones that come to mind quickly, and do affect me personally. But no two people’s experiences are the same, and you probably have examples of your own that matter to you. What does digital disruption mean to you? How are you planning to engage with your own customers, and adapt your business this year, and beyond? Think of it this way – if you don’t like the way something was done, most likely a lot of others don’t either so they will look for alternatives.

I lead the Digital Solutions teams across Telefónica Enterprise and MNC, focusing on how O2 can bring value and support to our customers on their journey to become digital businesses. I’m always keen to discuss digital disruption in all its forms, and you can connect with me via LinkedIn.

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