The current climate has been marked by disruption, uncertainty, and incredible transformation. To keep up with customers and competitors, businesses have accelerated their digital technologies and reinvented their ways of working. These organisations are now starting to arrive at a new frontier that’s both familiar and strange, where workforces are more empowered than ever, AI promises bold solutions, and the customer is at the centre of it all.
To find out how organisations can thrive in the age of the digital imperative, Salesforce hosted an Executive Club virtual roundtable with renowned IT Trailblazer Nancy Rademaker and some of Belgium’s top business leaders.
Here are some of the highlights from their animated and open discussion about the future of business, the power of digitalisation, and the limitless possibilities of AI.
It is important to remember that while today’s workforces may be decentralised, they should not feel disconnected. Encouraging communication among remote employees is vital – after all, it is hard to keep customers engaged if the employees are not.
Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace poll reveals that 85% of employees are either not engaged or are actively disengaged. This number is even higher (92%) in Western Europe.
“Companies should be working towards a 360-degree view of their employees. If you create better employee experiences it will create higher employee engagement.”
For Rademaker, this means reviewing and optimising all the different employee touchpoints, as well as focussing on creating a sense of purpose, and prioritising the well-being of the workforce.
“During this crisis, we’ve entered the age of well-being at lightning speed,” Rademaker says. “Not just physical and mental well-being, but social well-being and financial well-being. It’s about inclusion.”
Monitoring the well-being of the workforce and increasing employee engagement is on the minds of many of Belgium’s business leaders – but how to best do this remains an open debate. For one of the executives in attendance, the answer could be in leveraging employee data from various touchpoints, such as social media, to track satisfaction and better connect with the workforce.
Indeed, the roundtable revealed that many executives have questions about how new strategies and technologies might affect employees: Has the shift to remote working affected employee loyalty? What do employees really value in a company? Does pushing the digital supply chain make employees feel like they’re being pushed out of work? But it also revealed that firm answers are hard to come by in the current climate when everything is new, businesses are pivoting at a moment’s notice, and the story is still being written.
This is a time to think outside the box and re-imagine processes, technologies, and strategies. Businesses are not just accelerating their digital transformation; they’re reinventing their ways of working. They now have to figure out where their customers are, then meet them there with new and better experiences. This increased focus on the customer journey was certainly accelerated by the pandemic, as almost every customer has now experienced the convenience of e-commerce, and expectations are higher than ever.
Many businesses have been focussing on creating omnichannel customer journeys to meet these increased expectations, but Nancy Rademaker is looking beyond that, towards a ‘channel-less’ future.
“Channel-less journeys are where the channel becomes incidental and the experience becomes essential. This requires businesses to have a platform that provides real-time customer insights. It requires an intelligent AI to suggest the next best actions, even before the customer chooses a channel. And it requires conversational marketing that takes conversations from one platform to another in real time,” Rademaker states.
“The question for organisations is whether they bend or they break. Resilience is at the forefront of every strategy. Having robust systems in place is crucial, yet it’s agility that will ensure competitiveness.”
While agility is one of the big prizes in the current climate, not all companies are operating on an equal playing field. Organisations that were already digitally mature prior to the pandemic have been much better to pivot and adapt to change.
As Rademaker says, “Companies that already had digital platforms were well ahead of others when it came to working remotely and scaling up or down quickly.”
Where do Belgian business leaders and Nancy Rademaker see AI going?
“AI can be used to make predictions for the next best action, whether that be in B2B or B2C. That means collecting a lot of data and combining it on one customer data platform,” Rademaker states. “At this time, only 1% of industrial data is being used, and insights are buried in silos.” Making that data ‘smart’ and building better connections is a key benefit of AI and a goal that companies should strive towards.
AI is certainly crucial for delivering the personalised experiences that today’s B2B and B2C customers have come to expect, but it has applications that extend well beyond customer engagement. Many of the executives at the virtual roundtable are already finding new and innovative uses for AI, while others see that coming just over the horizon. Here are some of the ways that the executives are seeing AI transform industries:
Cash prediction: AI can be used to predict revenue and expenses and notify companies if there is a potential cash problem on the horizon.
Retail insights: AI can help retailers manage their finances better.
Medical diagnostics: Doctors and surgeons are using AI to analyse data and offer suggestions for the best courses of treatment. Eventually, AI-powered machines will be used to perform surgeries – skipping the doctors altogether.
This brings up another question from the audience: how will the rise of AI affect the role of humans?
“Humans will not be removed. It’s not man vs. machine – it’s man with machine. Research has shown that we still trust a human with an accuracy of 70% more than a machine with an accuracy of 96%.”
It is important to focus on personal contact and communication, even as we increasingly turn to digital solutions. “This is how we function as humans,” Rademaker explains, “We trust other humans.” The perfect experience will likely blend the efficiency and accuracy of AI with the compassion and relatability of humans. People will always crave human contact, which is why there will be a need for care workers even as AI handles diagnostic, analytics, and even surgery.
The roundtable revealed some fascinating insights from Nancy Rademaker and some of Belgium’s top business leaders. It is clear that the future is coming at us incredibly quickly, and while we might not have all the answers as to what it might hold, we know that by focussing on employee well-being, staying innovative and agile, and creating exceptional customer experiences, the future looks brighter than ever.
To catch more morsels of wisdom from extraordinary business minds, check out our Leading Through Change series, and learn how leading European companies are evolving to face the digital imperative.