As 2020 marches on, and the dust of disruption begins to settle, it’s clear we’re in a unique moment of change. The transformational leadership decisions you make today will leave a lasting impact on the kind of organisation that emerges from the other side. 

The transformative power of leadership throughout disruption was a recurring theme at our recent Salesforce Live: United Kingdom & Ireland event. (To access the sessions we refer to here in full – along with a whole array of other useful sessions – head to the event page to register.)

Here are 3 of the most powerful examples of how transformational leadership can strengthen customer relationships that came up during the sessions – and what business leaders can do to ensure they’re making future-proof moves in the wake of a newly level playing field. 

Let’s dive in.


Transformational leadership move #1: Get closer to your customers

The first transformational leadership move is deceptively simple: put customer needs and expectations at the top of your transformation agenda.

The challenge is that even before COVID-19, customer expectations were a rapidly, erratically moving target. They’ve always been highly complex, multi-faceted, and constantly changing – and COVID-19 has made them harder to predict than ever.

In our Redefining Customer-Centric Financial Services session, David Marlow (Chief Executive, The Nottingham Building Society) spoke about his organisation’s surprise at discovering an “enormous” shift in customer expectations around digital.


“When the pandemic hit, we quickly realised that our customers didn’t just expect access to our regular services through digital,” said David. “They expect a rich, immersive digital experience – as the norm, not a bonus.”


David’s company immediately started working with Salesforce to meet these customer expectations. Going into ‘the new normal’, the most successful organisations will – like The Nottingham Building Society – listen to what customers want, and transform accordingly.

To really hear what their customers want, though, they’ll first need to obtain a single 360 view of each of their customers – a view that runs across all business lines and functions to inform personalised and relevant interactions across all channels and devices. 

At Salesforce, it’s our goal to help every one of our customers obtain this 360 view – with the help of Customer 360, the world’s #1 CRM. With Customer 360, you can unite all your teams around the customer, putting the customer at the centre of everything you do. 

Which is right where you want them when planning business transformation. 


Transformational leadership move #2: Get focused on agility

If the first transformational move for customer-centricity is to zoom in and put customer needs above all else, then the second move is to zoom out, and consider what’s really driving your business.

Business agility is proving to be an essential piece of this once-in-a-generation recovery – not just to accelerate known outcomes faster, but to walk away from the past and pivot towards an uncertain future. Thomas Zink (Research Director, IDC) talked about this dynamic during Salesforce Live UK & Ireland:


“There’s no question that we aren’t going back to the pre-COVID world. The focus is shifting from damage control to accelerated innovation, as businesses ask “how can we set ourselves up to be competitive in this new ecosystem?"


Ironically, the one part of the pre-COVID world that can help transformational leaders accelerate better customer outcomes is the traditional software development definition of agility. We’ve seen retailers make huge D2C pivots, manufacturers scale-up safety equipment production and businesses of all kinds race to launch digital services in a matter of weeks.

Even (or perhaps especially) in times of crisis, breaking transformation down into an iterative and continuous process can significantly reduce risk and ensure valuable outcomes. Changing too much too fast is a shortcut to building the wrong thing and breaking stuff in the process.

And the results are worth it. As Marco Amitrano, Head of Clients & Markets, PwC, put it in our No Turning Back: Building Trust and Resilience to Thrive in Business Services session: 


“The firms we work with who’ve demonstrated agility and responsiveness to change during the pandemic are seeing a boost to reputation and are helping rebuild trust in them and their sector.”


Transformational leadership move #3: Get real about values

2020 has been as destabilising for customers as it has for businesses. Their lives, expectations and values have all been reorganised and reprioritised in real time.

That destabilisation has elevated the role of transparency, trust and accountability for customers. People want to transact with businesses that demonstrably make the world safer, more inclusive and more sustainable – that introduce more certainty into their lives, not less.

That’s why the third transformational leadership move is to validate yesterday’s box-ticking promises with tomorrow’s actual needs – while committing to real, visible action that leaves a better world behind.

Adam Spearing (EMEA Field CTO & SVP Solution Consulting UKI, Salesforce) talked about how Salesforce’s long standing commitment to values like equality enabled a rapid response to help communities once disruption hit.


“We’re working to close skills gaps in our communities. We’ve awarded 700,000 dollars in grants to UK charities like the Big Education Trust and Catch 22 – two amazing organisations dedicated to future-proofing the next generation with the skills needed to thrive post-COVID.”


Many of the speakers at Salesforce Live: UK and Ireland echoed the importance and power of a values-driven business model – both to build stronger customer relationships and create a positive business impact. Vanessa Kingori (Publishing Director for British Vogue) spoke about how technology is helping to drive diversity by removing traditional socio-economic barriers from the talent acquisition process:


“Some businesses might say it’s difficult to find diverse candidates in their locality. But technology has made it so you no longer need to recruit locally. I’ve recently hired a brilliant woman based in Manchester – she doesn’t need to travel to our Mayfair offices as she once would have. Technology has made the talent pool bigger and more diverse than ever.”


Likewise, Margaret Adam, Associate Vice President, European Services, IDC UK, noted a key trend happening across multiple industries, as business leaders recontextualise traditional notions of transformation for a post-COVID world:


“Business leaders are embracing new definitions of business value. Financial metrics still matter. But to achieve that financial value, future enterprises are focusing on values and the impact they make to society and the planet. 2020 is proving to be a fundamental catalyst for business and social transformation.” 


Crisis leadership is inherently transformational

The choices made throughout disruption necessarily create long-lasting consequences. They influence your customer relationships, strategic focus, reputation and more long after the initial crisis is over.

The actions taken by business leaders today will play a defining role in shaping the effects of the pandemic into outcomes – for their organisations and their customers – that will last well into the next decade. 

To find out more about how to lead your teams and organisation into a customer-centric future, head over to the event page for Salesforce Live UK & Ireland, where you can watch a wide selection of insight-packed sessions.