In this opinion piece, Penny Wilson, global CMO of social media management platform Hootsuite, explains how businesses can harness technology and consumer expectations to help scale business growth.
After nearly four decades in tech, I’ve seen technology transformations topple entire industries and fundamentally change the way we live, work and communicate.
As the CMO of Hootsuite, I find myself at the heart of the biggest shift yet: a digital transformation of the entire customer experience. Over the past decade alone, we’ve become a society where people can be online at any time, interacting with each other from a variety of locations and devices. There are currently 4.9 billion unique mobile users, accounting for 66 per cent of the world’s population, and 2.7 billion active social media users. Mobile, social and real-time are accelerating the rate of change faster than anyone ever anticipated.
For forward-thinking business leaders, the challenge is always how to best capitalise on these significant shifts. The question I get asked over and over again is: how do we harness the potential of technologies and consumer expectations to help scale business growth?
The most successful companies I’ve encountered recognise the path forward isn’t just about growing the business – it’s also about laying a foundation that easily scales. Leaders and teams must carefully consider whether disruptive strategies implemented today are compatible with the longer-term growth plans for the business, while avoiding adding a large number of resources or costs along the way.
It’s a big undertaking. Luckily, there is a single, best way to get started: shine the spotlight on the customer journey across all parts of your business. Get everyone into a room and map out the exact steps your customers go through when engaging with your business. Then identify which emerging technologies will enhance those key touch points in their journey. Focus on the tools and programs that will foster better, more authentic communication with your customers. Customers don’t see different departments – they see one business – so whether they are dealing with sales, customer service or marketing, they expect the same high-quality care and attention throughout the journey.
Globally, AccorHotels is a business that has recently done exactly this. With over 4,000 hotels in 95 countries, and more than 200 hotels across Australia, AccorHotels is the world’s leading hotel operator.
A few years ago, AccorHotels’ leaders began seeing how this social, real-time and mobile digital transformation was fundamentally changing their customers’ travel behaviours. People were increasingly using digital tools to research, book and give feedback around their travel plans. For instance, instead of just telling a handful of friends and family about their hotel experience, AccorHotels’ customers were now sharing them with hundreds of friends and peers in their social networks.
Recognising this new customer journey, AccorHotels had to find a way to connect with customers beyond just the standard, physical hotel experience. They wanted to engage with their guests before, during and after their visits.
However, it wouldn’t work to set up a social media team at headquarters to manage interactions at thousands of hotels across 95 countries. Each AccorHotels location has distinct features and clientele to cater to. The company’s leadership quickly recognised the most obvious solution wasn’t a scalable one for their business.
AccorHotels launched the AccorHotels Social Desk, a global platform that enables local-level hotel managers to share authentic, customised content with guests via social media. This can be anything from news of recently completed room renovations to the debut of a revamped hotel or restaurant menu – or even just a quick, warm one-to-one response to a guest comment on social.
According to AccorHotels’ senior vice president of global marketing strategy, Antoine Dubois, these are exactly the types of conversations that empower hoteliers to “strengthen bonds with guests, and above all make them want to book a stay”. Dubois noted that the initiative has given the company a clear competitive advantage by allowing it to come into contact with the customer before competitors or online booking agencies. In addition, after the launch of its Social Desk, in just over a year AccorHotels grew its online following from 4.5 million to 10 million people worldwide.
Other businesses should take heed. According to McKinsey, companies serious about becoming digital leaders must not only embrace disruption , but they need to do so with a strong commitment to scaling it.
Over the past two decades, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has taken his internet shop and scaled it to enormous heights, having just expanded to Australia. The online retail giant now has tens of millions of loyal customers and continues to exceed earnings expectations. So, when it comes to the importance of the customer journey, he probably described it best: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
It’ll be exciting to see a whole new generation of organisations, from corporations to educational institutions and governments, tap into this digital transformation and enhance their customer experiences in ways we can’t even yet imagine.