By Stuart Levine

Published in, Forbes

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, a phrase attributed to management guru, Peter Drucker, seems more apt than ever now that technology is accelerating the ability to connect with consumers. On the forefront of this direction is an imperative to define a great consumer experience that is personalized through evolving technology capabilities. “Big-data” and ever-improving data analytics, including artificial intelligence, are creating new customer expectations. Companies that effectively deploy this knowledge are gaining a sustainable competitive advantage. Every digital or physical interaction between a company and a person is an opportunity to add value, increase satisfaction, and remain relevant. This implies the collection of extremely current data on the appetite for new products and services for customers. Firms that are doing this, are seeing an increase in revenues and customer loyalty, and a decrease in marketing costs. 

Smart companies are making effective personalization strategies an important component of all-encompassing business strategy. Implied in this conversation is the imperative to engage your workforce and the data being generated through technology. There are numerous obstacles, but many of the most stubborn ones go right back to culture. How is leadership driving the culture to harness the needed technologies and behaviors? How effective is your culture in developing, attracting, and retaining talent? How well do people work together or not?  Are your employees passionate about the customer and getting things right for them? Cultures that are based on values become a strategic differential for the attraction and recruitment of the next generation of leaders. 

The pandemic has changed behaviors in ways that will endure. Bricks and mortar are decreasing in importance, while connecting with customers digitally has accelerated. Technology research and consulting firm, Gartner, estimates that the pandemic accelerated digital adoption on all fronts by five years. All generations have gone more digital, especially younger ones. In financial services, for example, research firm BAI found that more than half (52%) of banking consumers increased digital usage during the pandemic, and that the vast majority (87%) plan to remain mostly digital after physical locations reopen. Digital transformation is also impacting customer loyalty. BAI reports that compared to a year ago, fewer people would stay with their current financial services provider if they discovered a better experience elsewhere. Most younger people are particularly fluid in loyalty. GenZ (66%) and Millennials (75%), said they would switch firms for a better mobile banking app or smarter digital capabilities.

Siloed departments are an inhibiting factor that needs to be addressed. An IBM commissioned study on personalization strategies found that most companies (57%) identified organizational silos as a problem. Comprehensive data strategy must cut across departments because customer data is dispersed throughout the company and a customer may “touch” the organization through different means. A majority of companies realized, however, that multiple departments had their own strategies that were not aligned across different areas. Siloed departments often decided for themselves what data to collect and deploy. The gaps that are created by lack of information flow and miscommunication, greatly reduce the capability for integrated organizational performance.

Companies face difficult challenges to fund, support, and administer the human resources and technological infrastructure to deliver a personalized experience at scale. Gartner reports that 53% of respondents they surveyed had difficulty identifying the skills they required, let alone developing the skills in house or recruiting them. Yet, whether it’s talent development and retention or organizational silos, it all comes back to culture and the ability to share knowledge and learn together. The companies that do best are the ones that have developed and embraced a shared vision, mission and strategy that are built on core values. Leadership, starting in the Board room and the C-Suite, is accountable. They ensure that the culture sets the stage for broad ownership of clearly actionable strategy.  

A strong rhythm of communication is foundational to a healthy culture. It gives all stakeholders the context and roadmap to execute strategy. It makes the priorities clear and aligns resources in support of those priorities.  Often companies need an independent third party to help them objectively navigate difficult organizational concerns. Independent facilitation can introduce fresh thinking, help management to assess and address dysfunctional organizational dynamics, and be a confidential resource that will support leadership’s strategic processes. 

An IBM study confirms that companies succeeding in this digital world, as evidenced by outperforming peers in revenue and profit, focused on their cultures. For the outperformers, leadership prioritized and invested in their employees. They made certain that they had the learning, skills, virtual work environments, systems, and communications to support data-driven personalized service. 

An enterprise-wide unified strategy is a requirement for delivering a high-quality personalized customer experience. This process requires discipline that is based on very current data and shared in a transparent way throughout the organization. It comes down to leadership, the ability to engage people and a culture to get personalization right. Deliver to your customers a personalized experience and you will give your organization a competitive advantage.