True disruption is less about technology and more about people

There can be no doubt that over the past decade, technology and digital innovation has had a transformative impact across sectors and industries. Corporate juggernauts such as Kodak have been toppled, whilst small and nimble innovators have changed the face of entire sectors. The local financial services sphere is currently undergoing its own moment of internal and external disruption – prompting executives and leaders to pursue new products, services and offerings in an attempt to remain ‘relevant.’ In this pursuit, there is a relentless focus on technology, with leaders intent on harnessing the very latest in digital innovation.

Ironically, however, the fixation on fancy new technology – at the expense of healthy people practices –is arguably causing many financial services providers to become obsolete. Instead of being disruptive, many established players are simply getting more and more disconnected from their two most critical stakeholders: their staff (especially customer facing), and their customers.

Missing the point

For any business, no matter its industry or sector, achieving true sustainability is about providing a product or service that customers want, need and are willing to pay for. It follows then, that sound business strategy involves constantly being in touch with those customers, to find out what they really want and need.

Savvy business leaders should then be asking: who is closest to the customer, and is thus able to provide these kinds of insights and feedback?

Today, the most client-facing people are often those working in call centres, and are, ironically, very disconnected from the business(es)they are ultimately working for. In fact, many corporates (banks, insurance providers, etc.) outsource their call centres – and there is almost no cultural and emotional connection between call centre staff and the business itself. Yet these are the people who are most intimately connected with your customers – and have daily, firsthand insight into the issues and challenges that your customers are experiencing.

The end result?

While executives and business leaders are focused on putting out exciting press releases that detail trendy new applications and cryptocurrency platforms, they are completely ignoring the day-to-day experiences of customers – which contain critical insight into what executives should really be building and improving upon. 

Empower your people

To really be disruptive in today’s environment, you firstly have to empower your teams and staff to be in a position to understand the customer – and then, to have the freedom to provide the customer with what they want and need. Arguably, this means creating an environment in which your teams are free to experiment, and to sometimes fail. It also means treating your client-facing staff and teams as your greatest asset and ally – because, well, they are. If your staff and teams are treated as equally important and valuable stakeholders in the business, then they will behave as such – and their actions will be targeted towards pleasing customers, and growing the business. Elevate these roles and treat them with both respect and importance. Salary does not equate to importance!

Immerse yourself in what really matters

To be disruptive, leaders should be disrupting their own thinking – and making themselves a little bit uncomfortable. This means getting out of your offices and getting down to the call centre floor/customer service department, at least once a month, to experience what is really going on. Join your support staff, get onto the calls, and get firsthand insight into the lives – and complaints – of your customers.

In short, if you don’t invest in your people, you are ultimately not investing in your customers… a sure-fire road to ruin.  (and irrelevance)

Article was first published in CFO magazine

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