Who is the customer? This was a question put to me early in my professional career and is now even more applicable when we talk about customer experience and operational digital transformation in any business.
My whole professional life has been spent working in asset intensive industries (Aviation, Defence and Utilities) in roles which either provided complex information to operational and service workers, relied on receiving quality information back from these workers (for analysis and continuous improvement) or as a consultant to improve the related technology and processes. Operational excellence and continuous improvement in these environments is typically realised by:
- Increasing the productive time of these workers (either improving time on tools by reducing unproductive time or decreasing the time per job through changes in technology), and
- Improving the quality of information captured during the job to improve analysis and decision making by management and support staff.
The reality is that the administrative demand on operational and service workers is continually increasing as workers require and collect more information to meet regulatory and continuous improvement demands. When we build digital capabilities that focus on these workers as customers, significant improvements in the operation can be realised. Anybody who has read this far will probably yawn and note that these statements are not new and I agree, but I put to you that this is probably the most important aspect of realising operational improvement and is typically the last aspect to be considered in a project. Many of the projects in my career have included considerations about the solution usability (user experience) for operational workers, but to date none have made the customer experience of these workers the starting point of the project, or even worse, quietly deprioritise solution useability under project timeline and budget challenges.
The way we are approaching digital transformation is changing. I noted with interest the Hailo case study in the book Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation. The key insight from the taxi drivers, which fundamentally defined their approach, resonated with me. Their observation was “Don’t worry about the customer experience at this stage. Worry about creating a system that works for the drivers. The rest will follow.” The case study then further describes the success that this approach had through rapid driver use of the technology and improvement in cab utilisation and profitability. The end customer experience was then addressed as a second stage in the transformation. In this case study, by prioritising the driver’s experience rather than the passengers experience, the company’s market share and revenue followed the operational improvements which treated the driver as the customer.
Asset intensive industries will always require workers to physically maintain or construct the assets. Changes in technology and logistics models will impact how much of this work is performed manually and onsite vs offsite and with automation. What I can’t see changing is the need to improve worker efficiency as they receive, understand and collect data. As the need of operational and service workers includes more digital requirements I see that we need to increasingly utilise customer experience mindset and methodology as the starting point for digital transformation projects rather than squeeze their user experience into the project as an extra requirement.
Recognising that our workers are our both our customers and (often reluctant) suppliers of information, we need to bring all our tools and methodologies that focus on optimising their experience so that we make it simpler and more effective for them to consume and capture the information required for effective asset management.