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What Do Customers Really Think About You?

Channel partners in digital transformation face failure all the time, leading to upset customers. But failure can be a good thing.

Ask most channel partners, and they’ll tell you they deliver stellar digital-transformation services. Customers love them. Or do they?

When it comes to the customer relationship, there’s a huge gap between perception and reality, says Devbridge Group, a custom software developer serving manufacturing and financial-services industries. The reason for this gap has everything to do with failure to meet customer expectations.

Generally speaking, 80 percent of companies think they’re delivering top-shelf service, but only 8 percent of customers agree, according to a Bain & Company study. While the study didn’t specifically cover the technology-services industry, Devbridge Group CEO Aurimas Adomavicius says a similar gap exists in channel engagements.

“Almost half of the business we get into, we come in to rescue a client from an engagement that fell through or a delivery that was short of what was promised,” Adomavicius says.

Aurimas Adomavicius

The odds of an upset customer mirror the sky-high failure rate of digital-transformation projects. Last year, a Wipro Digital survey found that only half of companies are successfully executing on their digital-transformation strategies.

Failure can be traced back to a channel partner unable to deliver on expectations or a customer lacking the right culture for digital transformation. Usually, it’s a combination of the two.

For instance, companies hire channel partners to design and test innovative ideas as part of an overall effort to digitally transform their businesses. Too often, though, this is done in a vacuum. That is, a channel partner becomes part of an innovation lab or team separate from the enterprise.

This is a recipe for disaster. The innovation team is pushed to the outside because the company culture isn’t ready to embrace dramatic change and will undermine such efforts. But being on the outside means the innovation team can’t foster a company culture of creativity and willingness to fail. (For more on this, see Hard Truths About Modern Business Transformation.)

Even if the innovation team is successful at designing and testing an idea, the channel partner might not have the wherewithal, such as expertise, resources and political clout, to take the idea to the next level.

“Companies fall down because they don’t have the capacity to do the execution,” Adomavicius says. “Maybe the innovation group doesn’t have the staff or the configuration to follow through with delivery.”

And it gets worse.

Today’s channel partner also has the unenviable task of serving two masters: the line-of-business executive influencing the project, and the CIO sponsoring the delivery. They don’t always agree, and the channel partner often ends up in a no-win situation.

“Business owns the requirements and the sign-off, but the technology team needs to actually deliver,” Adomavicius says. “It’s a conflicting relationship. One team is saying, 'We need more features,' and the other team is saying, 'We need to get this out the door on an agreed upon budget.'”

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom.

Despite so many loaded guns leveled at digital-transformation projects and services, channel partners can still prevail. Adomavicius sees failures as opportunities to move the customer’s cultural needle. He says DevBridge Group’s cross-functional product teams serve as a kind of role model for a customer’s internal innovation team. In turn, the innovation team can show the rest of the company how to succeed in the age of digital transformation.

For example, Devbridge Group embraces Agile to deliver results four times faster than the industry average, the company claims. One of Agile’s principles involves failure: failing fast, learning, iterating and ultimately making a better product.

“You can sprint and ship some product in a week or two weeks and test it with the customer,” Adomavicius says. “Maybe you failed. Maybe you didn’t build what the customer wanted. But you learn, and it becomes a micro failure, not a catastrophic failure. In the next sprint, you course correct.”

The idea is to get the company slowly moving toward the acceptance of failure and even view failure as a learning opportunity. It’s difficult, because large companies don’t expect to fail. If a project fails, everyone scrambles to find someone to blame.

Nevertheless, a culture of embracing failure for continuous learning is one of the keys to successful digital transformation.

“Technology is simple,” Adomavicius says. “Managing people and expectations is hard.”

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