Being Customer-Centric is the New Wave of Futurism
Futurism is resurging. But it’s not only in art or architecture today. In business, variables and uncertainties are two of the biggest fears of entrepreneurs – enough that strategies were built around reducing virtually any possible threat from these two. People are now into doing business better rather than just bigger. Taking risks and mitigating them have become routine in top enterprises. The fourth industrial revolution is happening, and it’s gaining new ground with cutting-edge innovations taking advantage of the customer-centric futuristic approach. In line with it, making strategies using scenario planning is also quickly becoming “the new normal” for many successful companies. Three of the world’s top innovative companies – Adobe Systems, Workday, and Rolls-Royce – are showing the world the power of applying this new brand of futurism in the way they do business. On becoming the king of subscription: Adobe “We had a thirst for massive change and risk,” said Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes. In 2013, the famous design software firm shifted from its tried-and-tested (and very profitable) product-based model to a subscription-based one. It was met with criticism and violent reaction by a good portion of the design community, with more than 50,000 signing a Change.org petition to stop the move. Sure enough, the following year was rough for Adobe. Sales were almost negligible, and there was no visible growth. They killed the Creative Suite boxed set, and even loyal purchasers were not happy. Sometime after the lump, the trend soon began picking up – customers soon realised it wasn’t such a bad deal at all. More and more customers converted into subscribers. They started seeing the benefits of what was once a flat $1,300 to $2,600 transaction for a product with many features they don’t use, to one with a flexible model where they can avail of innovations for as low as several dollars. Adobe was one of those small yet vastly forward-thinking companies who saw opportunity amidst the enormous risks they were taking. From a relatively consistent 18-month cycle with jumping revenues coming with product launches, they moved to a more predictable revenue model. For Lewnes, “risk is how you stay alive in technology and other industries.” What fuelled this successful yet hazardous move was Adobe’s brilliant choice of adopting data analytics for digital marketing even before it became mainstream. In the early days of Adobe’s transformation, Lewnes and her team used web analytics tools from Adobe’s then-newly acquired asset, Omniture, to gain valuable information which led to the development of their continuously-improving flagship products, the Adobe Creative Cloud and the Adobe Experience Cloud. This commitment to providing excellent innovations in an ever-changing creative environment proved to be profitable for the company and highly satisfactory for their customers. With more than $11 billion in revenue in 2019, the digital creative giant is sitting on top of the food chain. Their intelligent risk-taking and propagation of a data-centric culture enabled them to become leaders in their industry. More than just taking risks, Adobe also delivered excellent customer experience, which Workday took as a central element to their value proposition. Work good, feel good: The success of Workday Productivity and management have played critical factors in the success of many organisations. No wonder modern developments like the Workday app were created to help make ventures perform even better. Workday was a company founded in making running businesses more accessible. Their primary service was, in a nutshell, giving their clients a rich customer experience that would make them perform better. The cloud-based service is built around the Workday app, which presents a whole array of functionalities for auditing, human capital management, financial management, and planning. Founded by Aneel Bhusri and Dave Duffield, Workday burst forth from the muddled sea of management app providers to take the #2 spot in Forbes’ 2018 Most Innovative Companies. With a big Innovation Premium score of 82.84%, Workday has proved how customer experience is a trump card for any enterprise. The decision to increase the focus on customer experience came as Workday responded positively to feedback that Workday “should continually raise their game.” Emily McEvilly, Workday’s Senior Vice President of Services, said: “Previously, marketing, sales, services, products, and partners worked to address the needs of our client base through a per-function basis. Uniting these groups through a single vision helps us deliver a more seamless and impactful customer journey.” To do this, Workday spent a lot of effort on conversing with their customers, gathering precise data and analysing how their needs vary by industry and other factors. Through effective relationship-building and communication, they also acquired insights into their customers’ purchasing and deployment decision-making. They measured client satisfaction in a number of angles and levels using various methods, such as tracking participation in user groups through their CRM system, daily interactions, and event-driven surveys. In addition they also have two in-depth annual surveys, the Executive Sponsor Survey and Named Support Contact Survey. From there, they add a proactive approach to gaining satisfaction feedback by developing internal processes and applications to predict their customer favorability score. This effectively enables Workday to gain solutions to problems before their customers feel any dissatisfaction. This forward-looking approach is an exemplary method of knowing the possibilities of what could happen and addressing them in advance. Eliminating variables and using agile processes to take out problems that would compromise a smooth-sailing relationship is a hallmark of visionary leadership. When it comes to a futuristic approach, though, a well-known name in the British manufacturing industry takes the cake with ingenious scenario planning: Rolls-Royce. Avoiding potential hazards: Rolls-Royce As one of the world’s most recognisable industrial names, Rolls-Royce has transformed itself more than a few times. Without reinventing the wheel, the British giant has successfully conquered crises by continuously innovating. Founded in 1906 as an automotive manufacturer, Rolls-Royce has diversified to include various other businesses, with their hold in aviation and financial industries remaining strong. However, in early 2014 they experienced a major problem stemming from previous industry events, such as the 2011 Fukushima power plant accident in Japan and declining commodities boom affected all their business ventures. What Rolls-Royce did was an incredible power move as their future hung in the balance. In the summer of the same year, they had their top managers participate in an executive education course at Oxford University, studying a wide range of topics that would most likely be relevant to the company’s future. The executives lobbied soon for a company-wide scenario creation process in a three-day workshop in 2016. The group of executives and top managers, after finishing their research, split up into four subgroups and were tasked with building scenarios for the near future: the year 2040. The multiple-day activity culminated in the active consideration of four strategic questions, which were: “What would digitisation be like in the future?” This point was aimed at making participants think how digital technology will reshape society and the way business will be conducted. “What factors would affect connections between companies and their labour force in 2040?” A query which considered the relationships of companies with the workforce and organisational structures. “What factors might foretell the potential of emerging markets?” This question sought conditions that would probably affect the trend towards globalisation, immigration policies, and compliance with such procedures. “In what ways would technology pathways develop?” A curious insight into probable technological developments that would disrupt or innovate certain markets. The workshop led to Rolls-Royce management basing virtually allof their future investment proposals according to the possible scenarios answered from the questions above. Four years later, their study and planning are bearing fruit. Growth in the company’s power systems and defence businesses fuelled a slow but steady rise, cushioning effects from various global factors and narrowing their pre-tax losses in 2019. In the same period, Rolls-Royce reported an increase in operating profit (on an underlying basis) rose by GBP48 million. While the future remains to be seen for Rolls-Royce, it is evident how scenario planning mitigated what could have been disastrous risks for the company that came out of the blue a mere few years after their workshop. Conclusion Predicting the future is not so much as fortune-telling when it comes to business. This new brand of “futurism in business” is taking enterprises by storm and those who are not investing in it will soon have to catch up to early adopters. As it was in the case of Google, Apple, and a few other innovators of their era, the pioneers are always the ones willing to take the risk. Competitive marketing agencies such as Exante root their services in such an approach. Their strategy products are continually updated to fit customers’ profiles to help them also serve their clientele better. Business leaders who know how to play their cards right do not throw their ventures blindly into the unforeseeable future with guesses. They are meticulous with data-backed details, secure with their vision, and are consistently in touch with their primary partners: their customers.