Companies need to embrace this one important skill in an era of instant answers

‘If you accept that we will continue to face challenges in many parts of the world, then embrace the fact that challenges can translate into opportunities’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 12:15pm

If 2017 has shown us anything, it is that there is never a boring day.

With all the twists and turns globally in politics, economic uncertainty has been the only constant.

In such times, it is imperative that businesses prove themselves to be resilient as well as responsive to whatever the markets throw at them.

At Accenture, I have been advocating that our business leaders crystallise their thinking.

Let’s start with what you should forget.

Forget: predictability. Nothing, as we know, is turning out to be predictable. If ever there was a time where the phrase past performance does not guarantee future results, this is it.

But this does not mean one should despair.

If you accept that we will continue to face challenges in many parts of the world, then embrace the fact that challenges can translate into opportunities. To capitalise on opportunities, companies need to be agile.

Management should ask themselves: Is my company agile?

The subset questions are myriad: Can we adapt to fluctuations in costs? Are we willing to make organisational structural changes? Can we become more intimate with our clients and customers, reacting quickly to what they need and want? Can we switch to new business lines if needed?

If the answer is no, then the next question a manager should ask is: How can we become more agile so that we can adapt to these new requirements?

To be agile does not mean you need to be a gymnast. It is not about twisting your business into a contorted operation. Rather, it is about being more responsive. Start by listening to your customers.

That must be one of the oldest pieces of advice in the history of consulting (you might even say it is predictable), but while it never ceases to be true, how you listen to your customers has changed. Your customer is always telling you something, but often when it’s a criticism, it’s couched quietly, indirectly, in hidden language. Sometimes, what your customer is saying is buried in the data, and you need analytics to untangle the truth.

Analytics is no longer a differentiator, it is a given. Businesses need to slice and dice the information they have about their customers’ needs so they can proactively pitch. Think about it: if you purchase a mortgage for a new flat, wouldn’t it be helpful if your bank proactively offered multiple homeowner’s insurance options, a new savings plan that takes into consideration your mortgage payments, and deals for new appliances? Artificial intelligence can easily gather that aggregate information and personalise it and then proactively present it to customers on a neutral platform. While banks have been offering some of this service for years, these days it needs to be faster, more robust (which may mean not simply listing a bank’s own products) and user-friendly.

In this era of instant answers, speed and simplicity is critical. This means most businesses need to be operating in an omnichannel world. They need to be offering services online, via apps, and in person. Customers simply expect that.

Human error, and slowness, are less frequently tolerated.

Indeed, many of our clients have been reaching out to us to learn more about the applicability of repetitive process automation for their respective industries as robotics reduce the margin for error. Machine learning, intelligent automation and deep learning – found in repetitive process automation – are all means for businesses to become more agile. They enable quick, accurate, responses and help humans put together the pieces to offer more robust advice to customers.

To become more agile, management needs to invest in their interactivity, their mobility and analytics. Repetitive process automation and artificial intelligence may be on the cards. These are investments in the future. They are investments in maintaining agility.

I am too optimistic to say “we are living in interesting times”. Rather than see the economic landscape as cursed, we need to see it as full of opportunities – for those who are willing to take them.

Gianfranco Casati is Accenture’s group chief executive for emerging markets